Maine Legislative Committee Rejects Marijuana Bill

Marijuana advocates in Maine were disappointed last Thursday to find out members of a legislative committee voted to reject a bill that sought to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

With a vote of 6-3 from the Criminal Justice Committee, it was a huge setback for the legalization movement in Maine, but thankfully not the final blow.

“It’s disappointing,” bill sponsor Diane Russell told the Portland Herald Press. “[However,] the fight has never been in Criminal Justice. The fight is going to be on the House floor.”

Initially, two bills were making their way through the legislature, LD 1401 and LD 1380. However, lawmakers eventually assimilated elements from LD 1401 into LD 1380 in an effort to present a unified bill and increase its chances of passage.

Under the newly amended bill, adults 21 years old and older could posses up to one ounce of marijuana. Retail sales would be subject to a 10 percent tax, of which the first $30 million generated would go to education and infrastructure and the rest would go towards funding state agencies responsible for regulating the marijuana system.

The bill would also limit the number of retail stores in the state to 45 locations.

Although the changes and compromises were not enough to convince the committee to move the bill forward, this is not the end of marijuana reform in the Maine legislature. Despite rejecting the proposed legislation, lawmakers are still expected to take up the bill, mostly due to external pressures.

Outside of the legislature, marijuana advocacy groups are gathering signatures for proposed ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing recreational use. Both Legalize Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project have measures that they hope to see on the 2016 ballot, and both have good chances of getting there.

Rep. Mark Dion, the sponsor of LD 1401, spoke to Bangor Daily News about the dilemma the legislature faces. “If it fails in the committee and the Legislature follows suit, the question doesn’t go away,” Dion said. “That’s the reality”

Simply put: If the legislature wants to have a say in marijuana, they will have to beat the voters to it.

Legislators like having control over any given issue, and even if recreational marijuana in Maine is not a guarantee, they won’t want to take that chance. So like it or not, marijuana reform will be coming to Maine, and it will be up to the legislature to decide what type of reform happens — and how it happens.

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