The Maine House of Representatives voted 74-62 Monday evening to sustain Governor LePage’s veto of LD 1650, a bill that would have repealed and replaced the citizen-initiated Maine Marijuana Legalization Act (MLA) with a similar, but in many ways different law.
Despite confused reports by some national news outlets, the sustained veto does not mark the end of cannabis legalization in Maine. Rather, the veto means that the MLA, narrowly passed by citizen’s initiative last November, may be implemented largely unchanged.
The vetoed implementation bill – a product of over nine months of work by the legislative Marijuana Legalization Implementation (MLI) Committee – would have entirely repealed and replaced the MLA. While much would have remained the same, LD 1650 would have made a number of significant changes to the shape of legalization. One of the more controversial changes was an “opt-in” provision added to LD 1650 just days before it went to the legislature for approval on October 23. The opt-in provision would have required towns seeking to host adult-use facilities to affirmatively vote to allow some or all types of adult-use facilities within their borders. This opt-in provision differed significantly from the MLA’s provision allowing towns to opt out, by banning some or all types of adult-use facilities. The bill would also have provided tax incentives for towns that chose to host adult-use businesses.
Among the most controversial changes proposed by LD 1650 was the elimination of the licensing priority afforded to current Maine medical marijuana caregivers and dispensaries. Under the MLA, regulators will give top priority to adult-use license applications submitted by caregivers and dispensary operators registered and in good standing for two or more years. LD 1650 would have removed this preference, placing caregivers and dispensaries on equal footing with other applicants.
With the sustained veto of LD 1650, the licensing priority for experienced caregivers and dispensary operators remains intact, and the proposed opt-in provision and municipal tax incentives are now moot.
The agencies charged with implementing the MLA – the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services – are now tasked with drafting detailed rules to implement the program. The rulemaking process is lengthy and involved, and is likely to delay issuance of adult-use facility licenses until late 2018 at the earliest, or even into 2019.
The timeline for implementation is further complicated by the possibility of additional legislative efforts to delay implementation between now and February 1, 2018. In January 2017, Governor LePage approved a bill delaying the “effective date” of the MLA’s commercial aspects until February 1, 2018. Under the MLA, regulators have nine months from the law’s effective date – or until November 1, 2018 – to adopt rules implementing the program. If the legislature enacts a second moratorium, implementation could be delayed even further. If the MLI Committee makes a second attempt to repeal and replace the MLA with a reworked bill, the timeline and future of Maine legalization will become even less certain.
In the meantime, investors and businesses seeking to participate in Maine’s adult-use cannabis industry are left with little guidance from regulators regarding the future of legalization. One thing remains certain, however: Maine’s adult-use program has not gone up in smoke with the sustained veto, and legalization is coming to Maine. It’s only a matter of time.