Before Maine voted to legalize marijuana last November, even as possession of the drug was decriminalized in statute and deprioritized by police, it still required the commission of a crime — someone had to grow the weed and sell it.

After the Nov. 8 vote, well, nothing’s really changed. Mainers can grow and possess a certain amount of marijuana, but they can’t sell it or buy it. For those lacking a green thumb, the only way to get a perfectly legal drug is to commit a crime.

It’s fitting in a way — the last gasp of ridiculous drug laws that have done more harm than good. But it doesn’t have to stand.

Before legislators are two bills that would allow the state’s eight established medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana while policymakers work out the details on a wider retail framework.

These experienced and professional facilities have shown over the last few years that they can provide a quality product to thousands of patients safely and within the law.

They should be given the chance to do so for others as soon as possible, so that Mainers don’t have to break the law to obtain marijuana, and so that there is a counterbalance to the black market, one of the main reasons for the law that passed last year.


Both the bills — L.D. 1448, by Rep. Matthew Harrington, R-Sanford, and L.D. 1491, by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta — would allow the established dispensaries, spread throughout the state, to sell marijuana to people 21 and over, taxing the sales at 10 percent and spreading the money between oversight, enforcement, and regulatory development.

Not only would that give the state more control over the marijuana market, it would give policymakers an early look at how the retail market is going to play out in Maine as they draft the framework in advance of a larger-scale roll out. Early sales worked in Colorado, where there were hundreds of medical dispensaries, so it can certainly work in Maine, where there are only eight.

It would also provide funding for oversight and the ongoing creation of a regulatory framework, a process that in any case is going to take a while as the state reacts to the new market.

There are other factors to consider. Demand for recreational marijuana is likely to be significant, so safeguards should be put in place to make sure there is still enough supply for medical marijuana patients. The state could allow caregivers to sell wholesale to dispensaries, and require dispensaries to maintain a certain amount for patients only. That would also give caregivers a foothold in the new market, as a matter of fairness.

A few licenses for early retail sales could also be created for caregivers, though there are risks, as caregivers have not undergone the same scrutiny as dispensaries.

Early sales can work, and without them people will circumvent the law in ways that don’t provide for public safety. There will be more unregulated marijuana “giveaways” in public places, and more Craigslist ads for “free” marijuana that comes with a steep delivery fee. The black market will flourish.

There are Mainers who want to buy marijuana without breaking the law, and experienced and proven businesses ready to serve them. Lawmakers should let them.

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