AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on Wednesday grappled with issues surrounding Gov. Paul LePage’s bill that would beef up enforcement of illegal drugs, but a proposal that would pair the issue with legalizing marijuana attracted the most discussion.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee did not make any decisions on Wednesday, saying the bill would be discussed in greater detail on Friday. Maine has seen a spike in heroin use, and LePage has seized on that issue, proposing a crackdown on illegal drug trafficking.
Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, said that the more than $2 million it would cost to add 14 Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agents, four assistant attorney generals and four district court judges could be more than paid for by legalizing and taxing pot.
“We always say, these are great ideas, but we have no way to pay for them. Well, this would pay for a lot of things,” said Wilson, estimating that marijuana legalization could raise about $28 million per year in Maine, based on the tax revenue Colorado is generating after it legalized marijuana last year, and adjusting for Maine’s population.
Although she’s not on the criminal justice panel, Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, is advocating for an amendment to LePage’s bill that would directly tie it to the fate of marijuana legalization in Maine.
Russell said an amendment to LePage’s drug enforcement bill would simply place the marijuana issue before voters and, if the voters said “yes” to marijuana legalization, would at that point fund the governor’s drug fight.
Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham and the bill’s sponsor, said he would prefer to vote on bills that take one issue at a time, but he was intrigued by the idea.
“The interesting part is that this is a way we could pay for it,” Plummer said.
Russell said not only would marijuana legalization pay for more drug enforcement efforts, but other alterations to the bill would add in treatment and education components.
“Instead of a one-legged stool, we would have a three-legged stool,” Russell said.
Russell said lawmakers would not be voting in favor of marijuana legalization, but merely to put the issue before voters.
A referendum to legalize marijuana in Portland last year was approved by voters. But the Portland law has little effect because possessing and selling marijuana is still against state and federal laws. President Obama has said that the federal government would not use federal law enforcement resources to go after people selling or using marijuana in states where it is legal. Maine does have a medical marijuana law, allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes with a prescription.
Plummer said he’s not against also increasing treatment options for Mainers. But Plummer said the state needs to do something now to go after people who are coming into Maine to sell drugs.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: