As we mentioned here previously, NORML has worked with Representative Diane Russell in Maine to draft and prepare for introduction a measure that would have legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana in the state. The proposed legislation would have legalized the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and the cultivation of up to 6 plants by individuals over the age of 21. It would have established marijuana retail outlets and cultivation sites across the state to create an aboveboard regulated market. To ensure that both those with experience and those with strong ties to the state of Maine were given priority, applicants who are already operating in Maine’s medical program and applicants with 2 or more years residency in the state were to receive the right of first refusal for retail licenses.
To be introduced, the measure had to be approved by Maine’s Legislative Council and was on track to do so until today. At the last minute, monied corporate interests representing established medical marijuana dispensaries came in and managed to flip one of the votes necessary to approve the bill for introduction. Their complaints were vague and they made the claim they were not invited to the table, despite the legislation being drafted to provide them with priority status when it came to applying for retail licenses. In truth, they walked away from the very table they said they were not invited to. In addition to providing deference to both medical dispensaries, registered caregivers, and applicants with real ties to the state, 5% of the taxes raised from the sales of retail marijuana would have gone to help low income patients who are suffering in Maine by subsidizing the cost of their medical cannabis.
“Today, corporate and profit-driven interests shunned Maine’s economic future and shut down the prospects of a new bill to regulate marijuana,” stated Representative Diane Russell, “For the record, 5% of tax revenue from the new bill would have gone to ensuring low income Mainers could afford their medical marijuana. Profits seem to be more important than patients – and that’s just wrong.”
With pressure from those with vested interest in maintaining the status quo, this proposed legislation ended up falling one vote short of what was required for its introduction, although we had enough votes.
Maine Residents: Please, take a moment of your day to contact Maine’s Legislative Council using our form linked below and let them know you disagree with their decision. The time is overdue for Maine to move towards a regulated system that puts the interests of Mainers before the interest of profits.
Very Disappointing: Please Reconsider LR 2329
I am writing to express my disappointment with the Maine Legislative Council for failing to approve Representative Diane Russell’s proposed legislation that would have legalized adult possession and limited cultivation of marijuana, while regulating its retail sale similar to how our state currently regulates alcohol.
For those who voted in support of Rep. Russell’s bill, I sincerely thank you. For those who voted in opposition to it, I write to respectfully request you reconsider your vote. I’ve outlined my reasons below and hope you will give serious consideration to the growing number of Mainers who want a Maine approach to marijuana policy.
Next Tuesday, Portland will be voting on a citizen referendum to legalize cannabis for adults. If this ordinance passes, there will be no vehicle to channel the growing momentum for legalization toward a constructive end. When 58% of Americans support replacing prohibition with regulation, the issue is no longer coming – it’s here. Regardless of the vote next week, we should be actively working to get ahead of this issue in a responsible, open manner.
Mainers are quickly realizing that prohibition has failed to protect kids. In fact, more than 80 percent of high school seniors attest to the federal government that they have easy access to marijuana – that statistic has remained constant for nearly four decades.
Further, Mainers are twice as likely to get arrested for possession if they are African American; York county residents are five times as likely. In 2010 alone, Maine arrested over 2,800 individuals for simple marijuana possession. The cost of enforcing these laws comes with an annual bill in excess of 8.8 million dollars a year, while doing nothing to create safer communities or dissuade use. Further, this system has only incentivized drug dealers and cartels who are currently profiting off prohibition.
This legislation was written with safe guards in place to give priority to in state residents and current medical marijuana dispensary operators when it comes to the distribution of retail licenses. Additionally, it would have taken the marijuana trade out of the hands of black market criminal elements and put it under the control of legitimate regulated business owners – from Maine – while raising substantial tax revenue for the state. The bill funded the hiring of new Drug Recognition Experts to help enhance highway safety, Drugs for the Elderly, addiction treatment, medical marijuana for low income people, and the launch of a marijuana youth prevention task force.
In short, this was a Maine approach to responsibly addressing a growing cultural shift. I ask you to reconsider this vote, and allow a new bill to move forward that truly reflects the direction Mainers want to go on this issue.