Taxes, fees and licenses have dominated the political debate over Maine’s proposed rewrite of its new recreational marijuana law.

But a reduction in the amount of pot that Mainers can grow on their own land for personal use could end up being the lightning rod of the legislative overhaul. The draft bill,which comes up for a public hearing Tuesday, would allow an adult to grow up to six mature pot plants for their personal use, but would set a limit of no more than 12 plants on any one property, regardless of how many adults live there, or if they use the plants for medicine.

Supporters say the change would prohibit large unlicensed home grows, which have led to black market diversion, fatal robberies and federal enforcement actions in other states where marijuana has been legalized. Opponents say the cap would hurt apartment dwellers, large families that live on a shared piece of property, patients who grow their own medicine and farmers who want to rent their fields to personal growers.

“We are very concerned the intent of the voters is being ignored and property rights are being trampled. … Mainers knew what they were voting on,” said Paul McCarrier, a spokesman for Legalize Maine.

Home grow rules had remained unchanged through months of legislative debate until the committee chairmen heard from Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s former state “marijuana czar,” and other state officials there who called unlicensed residential grows Colorado’s biggest, and most dangerous, enforcement problem. Colorado drastically reduced its household limit this year, from 99 plants to 12.

“We know this is going to be the big fight,” Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta said of the home-grow limit. “We take property rights seriously here in Maine, as we should. But we also need to give very serious consideration to public safety, public health and federal law. We have a state that has been down this road before us, telling us what didn’t work for them. I think we need to listen to them.”

Most states have capped the number of mature plants that can be grown for personal use on a single property. California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington, D.C., have either set or proposed a 12-plant cap. Alaska law doesn’t allow groups or collectives to cultivate “large” personal grows. Oregon law allows only four mature plants per residence. Washington bans recreational home grows altogether.

Massachusetts’ law is worded in much the same way as Maine’s citizen initiative, limiting individuals to no more than six plants but not setting any kind of property limit. It’s now up to the Bay State’s newly appointed Cannabis Control Commission to write regulations to interpret the law and there probably will be further tweaking, although advocates say the personal grow rules are likely to stand.

In Maine, the draft bill only limits the number of mature plants – a flowering plant or one more than 12 inches tall or 12 inches wide – on a property, not the number of immature plants or seedlings. Plants must be tagged with a name and Maine driver’s license number to identify the owner. People can grow their plants on someone else’s land, as long as the count there doesn’t exceed 12 and they have written permission.

This would not affect commercial growers or medical marijuana caregivers, who can grow plants for up to five patients at a time.

But caregivers say the proposal would hurt medical marijuana patients who grow their own plants, some of whom need the six plants they are allowed to grow under the law as well as a portion of the six plants allotted to other adults who live on the property to properly treat their medical needs. Medical patients say they should be entitled to six medical plants and six recreational plants.

Republican Rep. Patrick Corey of Windham believes the grow limit could infringe on the rights of adults who live in multigenerational settings. He doesn’t want to allow someone to grow for 100 people, but he believes each adult who lives at a property should be able to exercise their right to grow up to six plants for recreational use.

“People live so differently,” Corey said. “People have a right to grow on their own property. It’s their property. As long as it’s not bothering the neighbors, they should be able to grow just like anybody else. I know it’s been a problem in other places, but we are not those places. We are Maine. And we should do it the Maine way.”

Rep. Craig Hickman, an organic farmer and Democrat from Winthrop, told fellow committee members that property owners should be able to make a living off their property as long as it is not bothering neighbors. If state law gives everyone the right to grow six mature plants for adult use, then a farmer should be able to rent his property to individuals who want a home grow but don’t have the room, he said.

A constituent told Rep. Kent Ackley of Monmouth that he wanted to rent out his farmland. “He called it his business plan,” Ackley said.

There is nothing in the current law that prevents someone from hosting personal growers, for free or through a lease, as long as the property owner gives written permission and follows the rules limiting public smell, sight and child access. Many renters rely on remote locations for their marijuana plants to get around landlords that forbid marijuana cultivation in their apartments or on their property.

The legislative panel that wrote the draft is scheduled to meet twice more this week after Tuesday’s public hearing to discuss the comments, debate parts of the bill that were drafted over the summer when committee attendance was light, and consider possible changes. Among the recommendations are a 20 percent tax on retail marijuana, allowing medical and recreational marijuana to be sold in one store but from different counters, and the consumption of pot in social clubs.

A committee-approved bill could go to the full Legislature for a vote next month.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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