Gov. Paul LePage on Friday vetoed a bill to launch Maine’s adult-use marijuana market.

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, and raised concerns about the impact of marijuana impairment on traffic crashes. He also said he cannot “in good conscience” support a law that violates federal law because marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug.

In his veto letter, LePage once again criticized lawmakers for creating different regulatory structures and tax rates for medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. He also said that other states that have legalized recreational marijuana “have seen staggering increases in motor vehicle fatalities resulting from marijuana impairment.” He did not offer data to support this assertion.

“After one of the worst years in recent memory for crashes, fatalities and pedestrian fatalities, we should take every step to ensure safety on Maine roads instead of making them more hazardous,” LePage wrote. “No branch of government has a monopoly on a good idea; if Maine is going to legalize and regulate marijuana, it will require our joint efforts to get this important issue right.”

That final reference to branches of government working together is likely to anger lawmakers who served on the special committee charged with implementing legalization. Committee members said they received little to no cooperation from the LePage administration since voters approved the legalization ballot measure in November 2016, despite repeated requests for the administration to participate in the committee’s work.

Lawmakers who support the compromise adult-use bill hope they will have enough votes to override LePage’s veto. The bill passed with veto-proof margins in the House and the Senate, but a veto could erode that margin, especially among House Republicans, who last year led the effort to sustain LePage’s veto of the first adult-use market bill.

Legislators return to Augusta on Wednesday to take up the bills LePage has vetoed.

The co-chairs of the bipartisan implementation committee said they were disappointed by the governor’s veto given the work the committee did to protect children and give local control back to communities.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said legislators met with LePage a month ago about his concerns and felt they addressed most of them in the bill, which passed the committee on a 16-1 vote. He said legislators tried to be slow and conservative in how they approached the roll-out of the new industry.

“The choice now for legislators is whether to adopt the bill before them, which is the result of literally a year and a half of serious deliberation, or go back to the original marijuana legalization act,” he said. “The marijuana legalization act allows for things like internet sales, home delivery and drive-up windows, which we felt clearly were not in anyone’s best interest. Our bill, which is really a bipartisan effort, provides far greater safeguards to keep this out of the hands of kids, far better provisions for appropriate labeling and product warnings, and far more funding for law enforcement and public health education than the original bill.”

Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, co-chair of the committee, called LePage’s request for a “joint effort” to address marijuana legalization perplexing. The committee met with the governor, his staff and a couple of his departments, she said.

“It makes me wonder how in-tune he was to the entire process,” she said.

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 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.

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.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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