Maine’s new recreational marijuana law may take effect by the end of January, depending on how soon the secretary of state certifies the results.
Now that opponents have conceded and ended a recount, it is likely the certified results will be sent to Gov. Paul LePage this week. The governor will then have 10 days to issue a proclamation, which starts the clock ticking on the 30 days before the new law takes effect.
Although the governor opposed legalization, he is expected to sign off on the vote results just as he has for other referendum initiatives that passed despite his opposition. However, it remains to be seen whether LePage or President-elect Donald Trump will take legal steps to block or roll back laws in Maine and seven other states legalizing a drug that is still prohibited under federal law.
If there are no unforeseen delays in the processing of Maine’s elections results, adults 21 and older will be allowed to grow, possess and use marijuana by the end of January or the beginning of February. For those who do not grow their own, legal access to the drug for recreational use will be limited for a while longer.
The law opens the door to cannabis stores that will grow and sell the drug, but it will take close to a year for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to develop and implement rules and regulations for the program. Licenses for marijuana stores and social clubs are not likely to be issued before early 2018.
Maine voters approved the legalization measure last month by a margin of just over 4,000 votes, prompting a recount request from opponents. The opponents dropped the recount Saturday after a review of 30 percent of ballots showed no major shift in the results.
Lawyers for both campaigns will meet with election officials Tuesday in Augusta to go over ballots that were disputed during the recount. After those ballots are settled, the Secretary of State’s Office will certify the results and send them to the governor, said Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
Before the Nov. 8 election, LePage said he opposed legalization and would consider going to court to intervene if it was passed by voters. He later said he’d seek guidance from the Trump administration about how it will handle states with legal marijuana because of the drug’s illegal status under federal law. The president-elect has said he would leave the matter to states, but he also has named an attorney general – U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions – who has been an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization.
Last week, LePage said he believes the state could do away with its medical marijuana program and laws once recreational marijuana is allowed. Supporters of both legal recreational marijuana and medical marijuana say they are not sure LePage is serious, in part because recreational marijuana would be legal only for adults 21 and older. Medical marijuana is used by pediatric patients, including children with severe seizure disorders who do not respond to pharmaceuticals.
LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment Monday. The Trump transition team has not responded to questions about the incoming administration’s position on legalization.
David Boyer, campaign manager for Yes on 1, said there appears to be a shift in LePage’s attitude toward the legalization measure.
“I think he’s envisioning marijuana being legal in Maine with some of the changes he’s talking about,” Boyer said in reference to LePage’s comments about the medical program. “That’s very different than being opposed to it.”
Although the No on 1 campaign halted the recount effort, it made clear Monday that it will stay engaged as the new industry takes shape. It announced plans to hold a news conference Tuesday in Augusta to outline its top priorities and immediate areas of concern as the law is implemented.
The new law makes it legal for adults to possess as much as 2½ ounces of marijuana and grow a limited number of plants. It also allows for retail stores and social clubs in municipalities that allow them. Maine is one of eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Marijuana is the fastest-growing industry in the country, with sales expected to reach $6.7 billion by the end of 2016.