How long will it take Maine to be ready for retail sales of marijuana? With such a groundbreaking initiative, it’s anyone’s guess. So why are Gov. Paul LePage and others trying to put it off before the work even begins?

On Dec. 31, LePage issued a proclamation verifying the results of November’s successful marijuana ballot question, starting the clock set out in law. Thirty days after the proclamation – Jan. 30 – it will become legal for Mainers age 21 and older to possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants. After nine months, the state is supposed to have a regulatory system for retail sales.

Gov. Paul LePage is calling for a moratorium on retail sales of marijuana, saying the state may need more time to set up a regulatory system than the nine months provided by the law approved by voters in November.

Gov. Paul LePage is calling for a moratorium on retail sales of marijuana, saying the state may need more time to set up a regulatory system than the nine months provided by the law approved by voters in November. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

But before the Legislature had even started its new session Wednesday, LePage was calling for a moratorium on retail sales, a position echoed by Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who said he is gauging interest in a year-long delay.

With nine months still to go before the deadline to establish retail sales – and without giving the time frame in the law a fair shot – they are already asking for an extension.

Instead, lawmakers and state officials should try to meet the law’s deadline, knowing an extension is always an option if they can’t do it.

There is very little to be done for the state to prepare for legal small-scale possession and growing, although the Legislature must clarify a portion of the law that opponents, including Attorney General Janet Mills, say would make possession legal for anyone under the age of 21, which was clearly not the intent of the initiative. Otherwise, Maine will be ready for this change when it comes at the end of the month.

There is certainly much more to be worked out before the remainder of the law moves forward, but nothing so daunting that meeting the deadline should be dismissed outright.

In fact, many of the questions being raised by moratorium proponents don’t need answers immediately – they can be handled as they arise, this year and into the future.

Figuring how to properly measure impairment in drivers, for instance, is a difficult task being debated throughout the country. An answer may not be immediately forthcoming, and until a better method is found, using officers trained in drug recognition will suffice.

And only time will tell how the new law interacts with Maine’s successful medical marijuana system. Getting rid of medical marijuana – as LePage has suggested – is premature, and his stance that medical marijuana would cut into tax proceeds from recreational pot doesn’t appear to be the case so far in Colorado, despite the governor’s claims.

Sure, the framework laid out in the ballot question must be brought into the real world before the law is allowed to go in to effect. Lawmakers must decide, for instance, whether the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry should oversee marijuana regulation, as the initiative is written, or whether that job is better suited for another entity, such as the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations. They have to dedicate funding for the entire endeavor. They also should address the sale of marijuana edibles designed to look like children’s candy, products that could open the way for use by young people, accidental and otherwise.

But there is no evidence yet that lawmakers and state officials can’t reach the nine-month deadline, and until there is, it should remain in place.