It’s been nearly a year since Maine voted to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Soon after the result, our Legislature created a Marijuana Legalization Implementation committee to propose changes to the law passed by voters. The Marijuana Policy Project, which led the campaign last year, has advocated for effective regulations that protect public health and safety while opposing onerous rules that could make it more difficult to eliminate Maine’s underground market.

The Legislature’s committee recently released its draft bill to adjust the initiative passed by Maine voters. Most of the proposed changes adhere to the will of the voters, but there are a few issues that must be considered as the legislative process unfolds.

The bill would delay the licensing of social use clubs until the summer of 2019, stifling one of the many business opportunities created by the new law. This delay runs counter to the views of Maine voters, who decided last year that marijuana should be regulated like alcohol. A marijuana social club would allow adults to purchase and consume on-site, just as they now do with alcohol in bars. Social club licensing could also allow other establishments such as coffee shops, concert venues and yoga studios to apply for permits that would allow adults to bring their own marijuana to use in a designated space. Maine had more than 35 million tourists visit last year — where do we expect them to use the legal marijuana they purchase here?

This moratorium is unnecessary because cities and towns already have the power to ban or delay these businesses. In fact, they have the power to ban all types of marijuana businesses including cultivators, retailers and processors. Without local licensing, unregulated and untaxed clubs will fill the void created by the delay. We think it’s better to let the towns decide.

Last year’s Question 1 set a marijuana sales tax rate of 10 percent. The committee’s bill would raise the tax rate to a total of 20 percent. There is interest in raising the tax rate even higher, but we strongly recommend staying at 20 percent, which is already double the rate approved by Maine voters. The tax rate was an issue throughout the campaign — and it is a key component of eliminating the underground market, which itself was the reason why many voters chose to approve legalization. If taxes are too high, illegal and unregulated sales will likely continue.

The proposed bill is structured so that towns receive a portion of their marijuana sales through revenue sharing. We support municipalities marijuana tax revenue, as it would hopefully encourage more localities to allow for legal marijuana businesses. Unfortunately, towns are skeptical of receiving the tax revenue through revenue sharing with Augusta, since the money doesn’t always make it back to the town. The committee needs to provide a firm guarantee to municipalities that they will receive the tax revenue their respective towns generate.

While there are some policy issues that need to be ironed out, Maine must avoid further delay.

The state’s underground market has ballooned since marijuana became legal and it will only get larger until adults are provided with a legal place to purchase and consume marijuana.

There have been numerous news stories about people “gifting” marijuana for the cost of delivery or more brazenly, the cost of the Ziploc bag it came in. Maine voters wanted marijuana to be sold behind the counter of a licensed business, not on Craigslist.

The committee is on the right track but has moved slower than all other states. Nevada has allowed early sales, California plans to issue temporary licenses in January, and Massachusetts will open stores by July of 2018. Maine must work diligently to get our marijuana market up and running.

Unfortunately, the committee’s proposal sets no deadline for when stores must open. Our Legislature can do better.

After delaying implementation for so long, it’s unacceptable to continue without a real timeline. The chairs of the marijuana policy committee have said publicly that they are anticipating that stores will open next summer, but without any accountability built into the law, there is no guarantee.

David Boyer is the Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

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