When they legalized marijuana in 2016, Maine voters approved one of the most tolerant recreational marijuana laws in the country, one that would allow adults to consume marijuana in a licensed social setting and grow up to six plants at home for their personal use.

Maine would have become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana social clubs. But the Legislature rewrote the law in 2017, and then again in 2018, eliminating social clubs and cutting the at-home plant count in half to secure the votes to override the veto of former Gov. Paul LePage.

This month, lawmakers are considering bills that would restore these original elements of the referendum law. On Monday, a legislative committee held its first hearing about on-site consumption before voting 9-2 to restore the home grow limits in the 2016 referendum question.

“I believe it is time to bring the voters what they approved,” said Heather Sullivan of Hollis, who works for Curaleaf, a large multistate cannabis company active in Maine’s medical and recreational cannabis markets. Maine wasn’t ready to lead then, Sullivan said, but it can follow other states’ example now.

If Maine amends the marijuana law to allow for social clubs, it would no longer be an industry pioneer. Nine states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Nevada – allow on-site cannabis consumption, or do not ban it and thus allow for cities to permit clubs.

Like drinkers and cigar smokers, Maine’s cannabis users deserve safe, controlled places to exercise their rights with like-minded people, Sullivan said. State law bans cannabis use almost everywhere but in a person’s own home, leaving renters and tourists with no legal place to consume.


“Personally, as a single woman of a certain age, the idea of there being a place that I could safely meet potential suitors and get to know them over a good conversation and a joint feels a lot safer than meeting in an alcohol-filled bar,” Sullivan told the committee.


Sullivan testified in favor of a bill, L.D. 839, introduced by Rep. Lynne Williams, D-Bar Harbor, allowing for on-site consumption of edible cannabis inside a licensed recreational cannabis shop with municipal approval. As amended Monday, this bill does not allow for on-site cannabis smoking.

The bill met with strong opposition from traditional marijuana opponents such as Rep. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, and the Maine Department of Public Safety, both of whom predicted that social clubs would lead to a spike in impaired driving on Maine roads and more fatal accidents.

The bill prompted a lukewarm response from the Mills administration. John Hudak, director of the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, said the bill doesn’t address potential problems such as how to prevent overserving consumers, driving under the influence, public education about cannabis effects and employee safety.

He said the Mills administration is willing to work with Williams and the committee to improve the bill, which he acknowledged is important to take full advantage of the economic opportunities offered by the recreational marijuana program, but said lawmakers should take their time to do this right.


“I urge the committee not to rush this process … instead of shoehorning onsite consumption into the existing regulatory framework,” Hudak told lawmakers during Monday’s hearing. He began his comments by saying that he thought the proposed legislation, as written, was “entirely inadequate.”

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will eventually hold a hearing on a second cannabis club bill from one of its members, Rep. David Boyer, R-Poland. Boyer said that his bill, which is not yet printed, would allow for on-site smoking, and wouldn’t limit social club licenses to retail shops.

This is a full-circle moment for Boyer. Before his 2022 election to the statehouse, Boyer worked on Maine’s 2016 legalization campaign and lobbied on marijuana issues, including social clubs, as the Maine spokesman for Marijuana Policy Project.


Boyer also is the sponsor of L.D. 555, the bill that would increase the personal use recreational plant count from three to six. At a public hearing on the bill this month, Boyer said the reduced plant count in the legislative rewrite of the 2016 referendum question was “a slap in the face” to Maine voters.

“Over the last six years, Mainers have been allowed to cultivate cannabis for personal use,” Boyer said at the hearing. “While there may be some neighborly squabbles from time to time, the sky certainly hasn’t fallen like opponents predicted. We are simply asking the Legislature to uphold the will of Maine voters.”


Maine’s growing season is harsh and unpredictable, leaving little room for error under the current three-plant limit, Boyer said. When asked if one consumer really needed six plants, Boyer reminded lawmakers that Mainers can brew 200 gallons of beer per household; about three bottles of beer a day per person.

The Maine Municipal Association said that some of its members had concerns about possible complaints about odors, and noted that industry research suggests that even three mature marijuana plants produce more smokable marijuana than a person can legally possess at one time under Maine law.

Raising the personal use plant count to six would keep Maine in the middle of the pack of the 20 adult-use state markets. Current limits now range from as low as two adult-use plants per person in Maryland, Montana and Vermont up to as many as 12 plants per person in Michigan.

Some states also limit the number of plants allowed per household – for example, both Connecticut and Massachusetts cap the number of adult-use plants per household at 12, no matter how many people live there – but Boyer’s bill does not. Illinois, New Jersey, and Washington ban home cultivation.


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