AUGUSTA — As state lawmakers debate how the commercial side of recreational marijuana ought to be regulated in Maine, local county officials say they are concerned that so far no proceeds from taxing pot are set aside for counties.

At Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, District 1 Kennebec County Commissioner Patsy Crockett said the workload for law enforcement, including sheriff’s departments, is likely to increase, as will jail costs, when regulations for the state’s marijuana market — which includes retail shops and social clubs — are put in place.

One of the anticipated costs would come from dealing with intoxicated drivers. Establishing alcohol as an intoxicant is fairly straightforward, because a device exists to measure blood alcohol content. But no similar field test exists to test for marijuana intoxication.

Law enforcement departments often use the services of a drug recognition expert to help establish, for instance, if a driver is operating under the influence of an intoxicating substance.

Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason, who was chief deputy at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office before being elected Kennebec’s sheriff, said his former department had a drug recognition expert on staff who underwent weeks of training. In addition to working in Lincoln County, the expert also worked in neighboring Sagadahoc and Knox counties, and the overtime generated was paid for through an arrangement with the Department of Highway Safety.

“I would like to hire one or two here with what’s coming at us,” Mason said during the commission meeting.

“It’s already here,” Crockett said, referring to the new marijuana law.

“I think the issue that Patsy is getting at is there will be a lot of cost, and how are we to pay for that without levying tax on the county taxpayer?” District 2 County Commissioner Nancy Rines said.

In November 2016, Maine residents voted by a narrow margin to legalize the personal use and possession of limited amounts of marijuana by people 21 and older. The ballot initiative also allowed commercial enterprises.

While Gov. Paul LePage signed a proclamation verifying the vote result in early January 2017, allowing the personal use portion to take effect Jan. 30, he also signed a bill that delayed retail sales.

After a special session of the Legislature last fall, LePage vetoed a measure that lawmakers sent him, and the veto was sustained. The governor said in his veto letter the bill sets unrealistic time lines for launching the market, fails to address shortcomings in the medical marijuana program, creates a confusing regulatory system, and it might not generate enough tax revenue to cover the cost of market implementation or regulation.

The issue is expected to arise again during this year’s legislative session.

After Tuesday’s commission meeting, Crockett said that in other states where marijuana has been legalized, counties receive a portion of the tax revenue.

“Whatever the Legislature can get for us is better than what was in the bill the governor vetoed, which was nothing,” she said.

Robert Devlin, Kennebec County’s administrator, said the issue has been discussed at the Maine County Commissioners Association meetings, and the bill establishing and regulating the marijuana market in Maine is not finished.

Both Devlin and Mason noted that many state residents’ applications for authorization to use medical marijuana have been approved.

“It’s so easy to get a (medical marijuana) card these days that the impact of recreational marijuana is incremental.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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