The Maine Legislature on Tuesday sent a bill to launch the adult-use marijuana market to Gov. Paul LePage.

The two-term Republican now has 10 days to take action. He can sign the bill, allow it to go into law without his signature, or use his gubernatorial veto to try to kill it, which is what he has vowed to do. LePage, a staunch opponent of marijuana, said he doesn’t want Maine to operate two different marijuana programs – medical and adult-use – with two different tax rates and two different sets of rules.

The legislation may soon be joined by another marijuana bill. The House on Friday approved a bill to overhaul the state’s medical marijuana program without debate or even a roll call vote. That bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate on Wednesday, the last day of the legislative session, which would send the second major marijuana bill to LePage’s desk in as many days.

The Senate’s vote Tuesday on final enactment of the recreational bill – 25-10, in favor – was a procedural action taken when both chambers of the Legislature approve the same wording of a bill. The vote mirrored one taken last week, picking up one more “yes” vote from a senator who had been absent from the first vote.

The House took its procedural, or concurrence, vote last week, but the margin of victory there was narrower than in the first House vote, where bill supporters had claimed a 112-34 win.

Despite losing some votes, even the second House vote had a veto-proof vote margin. Recreational bill supporters say they will have enough votes to override a LePage veto this time around. Last year, a bill that would have launched the adult-use market passed in both houses, but supporters couldn’t muster enough votes to override his veto. That failure sent lawmakers back to committee to create a more conservative compromise bill.

If the adult-use bill continues on its current path, Mainers can expect to see the first recreational business licenses issued in the spring of 2019 and be able to buy from a retail store shortly thereafter. Unlike in some other states, the Maine adult-use bill allows retailers to buy product from licensed medical marijuana growers, so the shelves should be fully stocked upon the opening of the store.

The adult-use bill is more conservative than the bill approved by referendum voters in November 2016. It doesn’t allow for social clubs, which means adults who buy their cannabis here will have to consume it on private property, with the permission of the property owner. The number of plants that residents can grow on their own property, or someone else’s with permission, has also been cut from six mature plants to three, because lawmakers hope to reduce black market sales.

The bill doesn’t cap the number of licenses, or the amount of recreational cannabis that can be grown in Maine, which some entrepreneurs complain will drive down prices so far that small growers won’t be able to survive, leaving only those with out-of-state money behind them standing in the end. To allay those concerns, lawmakers voted to give the first three years of business licenses to those who have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least four years.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA CHANGES

On the medical front, the House voted Friday to pass a bill that will expand the number of people who can qualify for medical marijuana cards, boost the number of state-licensed dispensaries and allow caregivers to see more patients, hire more workers and run storefront operations without legal reprisal. The bill went “under the hammer,” or was passed without debate or a roll call vote, and lawmakers who crafted it expect it to pass easily in the Senate, too.

It is a committee bill – written by the members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee – that has been more than two years in the making, delayed while lawmakers waited to see what would happen to the recreational marijuana bill. After waiting for 18 months, the committee decided it had to push through an omnibus bill that would address a range of problems with the program, loosening some overly restrictive rules and adding new ones to close legal loopholes.

The committee wrote the bill expecting a veto, but thinks legislative support for the program runs deep enough to override it, said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the committee’s Senate chairman.

“The bill is intended to give those that operate within the expanded boundaries of the medical marijuana program much more freedom,” said Brakey. “But it also makes those boundaries much more clearly and sharply defined, with tougher penalties for those that exceed them.”

The bill would increase patient access to medical marijuana by allowing medical providers to certify an adult patient for any medical reason, eliminating an existing list of qualifying conditions that only allowed certification for people suffering from things like cancer, Crohn’s disease or Alzheimer’s. It would allow parents to give marijuana to children with epilepsy, cancer or intellectual or developmental disabilities after just one doctor recommendation. Now they must get two.

The bill also would give registered caregivers the ability to use their 30-plant operation to serve as many patients as their harvest allows, hire more workers and sell out of storefronts without the threat of legal action. Caregivers currently are bound by a limit of five patients per plant.

The number of state dispensary licenses would increase from eight to 14, and let dispensaries shed their nonprofit status to better compete in the marketplace.

But with those extra freedoms would come extra responsibilities. The bill requires caregivers to submit to unannounced inspections of their grows, lets the towns regulate where caregivers can operate cultivation facilities and requires registered caregivers and dispensaries to install a seed-to-sale tracking system. It also requires caregivers who operate storefronts to install the same security measures as those used by dispensaries.