Senator Joyce Maker’s Monthly Column

Things are usually quiet during this time of the year at the State House, but last Monday was different as we all returned to Augusta once more to convene for a special session. 

Although the special session was called by the governor to address the new food sovereignty law and correct a specific drafting error in the biennial budget, much of our time and effort was spent passing an important ranked-choice voting delay bill and debating LD 1650, “An Act To Amend the Marijuana Legalization Act.”

This bill, sponsored by the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, is the result of seven months and countless hours of work by me and my colleagues on the committee. Although a bill of this scope and magnitude is never perfect, I am proud of the open and transparent process we took to arrive at this final product.

Since March, the committee has conducted hours of public hearings, received hundreds of email submissions and provided a number of opportunities for everyone to weigh in on this important issue. After much research and deliberation, the committee drafted LD 1650 to establish a framework and tax structure for the new adult-use marijuana industry that was created by Question 1 on last November’s ballot.

Establishing a new industry from the ground up has proved to be no simple task. At 83 pages long, this is a complex bill that covers a lot of policy areas with the main goals of allowing adults to purchase safe and predictable products, putting Mainers first by providing entrepreneurial opportunities for our residents, deterring black market sales so customers can be confident in what they are purchasing, respecting local control and above all else, promoting safety for our children and on our roadways.

If this bill becomes law, the state will hand the keys over to municipalities, which will have full control of marijuana sales in their towns. If municipalities chose to opt in to the industry, they will have the ability to adopt their own licensing standards, set locational restrictions or limit the number of facilities that will be allowed. 

To put Maine entrepreneurs over big marijuana growers from away, the bill stipulates that applicants for retail licenses must be a Maine resident for at least two years and that the majority of stakeholders or investors must also be residents of Maine. Applicants must also undergo a criminal background check and they cannot have had a disqualifying drug offence within the last 10 years, along with a few additional requirements.

The bill also outlines the tax structure, which is designed to benefit both the state and municipalities that host marijuana businesses. 

The state will collect a 10 percent sales tax at the point of sale and an additional 10 percent excise tax based on weight and unit. All revenue generated will go to the general fund with a few exceptions: five percent of sales tax generated within a municipality will be sent back to the town; five percent (half) of the excise tax will be sent directly to towns; one percent of tax revenue generated will be distributed equally to towns with marijuana facilities; six percent will go towards the Adult-Use Marijuana Public Health and Youth Prevention Fund and another six percent will be placed in a fund to train law enforcement and promote safety.

While many of us did not vote for marijuana legalization and don’t necessarily support having an adult-use marijuana industry in Maine, it became the law of the land last November with the passage of Question 1. People have been using marijuana legally for a number of months now with only two options: grow it or purchase it off of the black market illegally. 

The market, as established by Question 1 last November, was drafted by special interest groups to benefit those groups, and it was highly flawed. For those reasons, portions of the new law were suspended to allow legislators the time to establish this new market, with input from all parties, in a thoughtful and responsible way. I feel that with this bill, we have accomplished this goal.

LD 1650, having passed both chambers of the Legislature, is now on the governor’s desk for approval. I sincerely hope that he signs it.