Gov. Paul LePage issued an executive order Monday that directed the state’s liquor agency to take charge of rulemaking and oversight of Maine’s new marijuana legalization law.

On the first day of legalized marijuana in Maine, LePage followed through on a pledge and ordered the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, or BABLO, to take over rulemaking authority from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. In so doing, LePage also took another political swipe at the Legislature days after the first major dust-up between the legislative and executive branches this year.

First, his order is an attempt to preempt lawmakers who plan to take up the oversight issue in the coming weeks and could pass a bill with a different regulatory structure than giving all oversight to BABLO. Additionally, LePage singled out House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who he had previously said he did not trust to follow his will.

“The Executive Branch must be provided with the resources necessary to implement this new law,” LePage said in a statement. “We submitted language to direct rulemaking to BABLO and requested funding from the Legislature to implement it, but the Speaker of the House killed it. The longer Democrat leadership plays these political games, the more they show the Maine people who they really are. If they fail to do the right thing, I will take action to make sure rulemaking for the Marijuana Legalization Act Mainers (sic) is done properly and paid for appropriately.”

However, the latter statement appeared to contradict the text of the executive order. The order declares that “no employee or department of the Executive Branch may expend funds for the purpose of implementing the Marijuana Legalization Act until an appropriation is made by the Legislature for that purpose.”

LePage’s office did not immediately respond Monday afternoon to a request for clarification on that contradiction.

While personal possession of marijuana became legal for adults 21 and older Monday, policymakers still have an enormous amount of work to do on issues such as law enforcement, licensing, regulation of cannabis products and tax collection on retail marijuana sales. Much of that work will occur during the rulemaking process, however lawmakers have submitted more than 50 bills related to marijuana in the current legislative session.

On Thursday, the Legislature unanimously approved a bill to delay retail sales of marijuana until February 2018 to give state agencies additional time to craft rules. The bill, L.D. 88, also closed a loophole in the legalization law that could have inadvertently allowed Mainers under age 21 to legally possess marijuana or permitted drivers to smoke marijuana behind the wheel.

The bill had broad support, but LePage initially said he would not sign it because House Democrats rejected an amendment to transfer oversight to BABLO and earmark $1.6 million for the rulemaking process. Gideon had introduced a separate bill – with the support of Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau – to accomplish those goals separately in order to allow the issues to have public hearings. LePage ultimately reversed course and signed the bill, Friday afternoon but, in the process, accused Gideon of “playing dirty politics.”

A spokeswoman for Gideon declined to comment Monday on the governor’s latest statement, but said the speaker’s bipartisan bill dealing with BABLO will move forward, as planned. That means the Legislature could change the oversight structure for marijuana, despite the governor’s executive order.

The bill and dozens of others will be reviewed by a new committee charged with helping implement marijuana legalization in Maine.

The Legislature created a special committee to handle those bills – rather than scatter them among the various standing committee – and to help guide state agencies as they develop rules to begin licensing retail marijuana businesses in February 2018.

Legislative leaders announced the membership of the Joint Standing Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation. Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, are the co-chairs. The other members are: Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth; Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn; Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York; Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham; Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford; Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland; Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland; Rep. Lance Evans Harvell, R-Farmington; Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop; Rep. Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland; Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais; Rep. Donald Marean, R-Hollis; Rep. Kimberly Monaghan, D-Cape Elizabeth; Rep. Michael Perkins, R-Oakland; and Sen. Kimberly Rosen, R-Bucksport.

“I know everyone on the committee is looking forward to the challenge of determining how to make the law safe and workable,” Katz said in a statement. “Even though it is now legal for possession of certain amounts of marijuana for those 21 and over, many questions remain – from emerging public safety issues, to licensing and oversight of commercial growers and retail outlets, to packaging and labeling, to keeping edibles and other products out of the hands of our kids. And the list doesn’t end there. It is more important that we resist the pressure to get this done too quickly and instead do our best to get this right the first time.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

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