It’s marijuana Monday in Maine.
Today, Maine joins seven other states and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, despite federal prohibitions on the drug.
The road to legalization in Maine was bumpy, starting with two competing initiatives and a legal challenge to getting the referendum question on the November ballot. After legalization was approved in a close vote the opponents requested a recount, but after two weeks of hand-counting ballots there was no change in the outcome.
The state is entering a rapidly growing industry expected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2021. Last year, North American consumers spent $6.9 billion on legal cannabis products, up 34 percent from 2015, according to a new report from Arcview Market Research.
The transition to legal pot has not always gone smoothly in other states, and Maine lawmakers rushed to address several potential flaws in the voter-approved law before it took effect. On Friday, Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill unanimously approved by the House and Senate to close a loophole that could have allowed people under age 21 to legally possess marijuana. The legislation also prohibits the consumption of marijuana while in a vehicle in operation and delays the start of retail sales until February 2018, giving agencies more time to craft and implement rules governing the industry.
Local government officials have also scrambled to get ready for legal marijuana. Dozens of towns have implemented or considered moratoriums on marijuana sales to give officials time to consider land use regulations. Others have voted to become “dry towns” and forgo marijuana retail shop and social clubs altogether.
Adults may be legally allowed to light up a joint, but some things won’t change: It is still illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana, to use marijuana products in public and to give them to anyone under 21. And until the state issues licenses, it’s still illegal to purchase marijuana.
So before you light up, here’s what else you need to know now that marijuana is legal in Maine:
Q: When can I start using?
A: Marijuana becomes legal today, Jan. 30, but it is not yet legal for marijuana to be sold.
Q: Can anyone use marijuana legally?
A: No. The law says you have to be 21 years or older.
Q: Can I use as much as I want?
A: No. The law allows an individual to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana. We’re told you can roll about 60 marijuana cigarettes, or joints, with each ounce. You can also give a friend up to 2.5 ounces as long as you don’t take anything in return.
Q: Can I smoke it anywhere?
A: No. The law prohibits using marijuana in public, whether you smoke it or eat it. You will have two options – smoking in private, such as in your home, or smoking in a state-licensed marijuana social club. You could be fined up to $100 for using marijuana in public.
Q: Wait, a marijuana social club?
A: The new law allows for state-licensed clubs where customers can use marijuana in a social setting. Proponents say it will provide a place for tourists and others to use the drug legally, an issue that has presented problems in other states.
Q: When can I go to a marijuana store or social club in Maine?
A: Not until at least February 2018. Lawmakers have implemented a moratorium on retail sales to allow time to set up a licensing and regulatory framework.
Q: Will there be stores everywhere?
A: Not necessarily. Maine communities can restrict the locations of the businesses or even ban them outright. Some communities are adopting temporary bans to allow time to consider zoning and other rules, and others are implementing permanent bans to become “dry towns.”
Q: Can’t I just buy it from a medical marijuana dispensary or caregiver?
A: No. State-licensed dispensaries and caregivers are only allowed to sell cannabis products to patients who have received a certification from their doctor.
Q: Can I just grow it myself?
A: Yes. An individual is allowed to have six mature plants, 12 immature plants and an unlimited number of seedlings at any given time. You can’t grow it where it is visible to others and must prevent access by anyone under 21. Each plant has to be labeled with a tag that includes your name and your Maine driver’s license or identification number.
Q: What about workplace drug testing?
A: State officials have said the referendum language is unclear about workplace drug testing, while proponents have said employers will still be able to use drug tests to screen job applicants and existing employees. Employers can forbid employees from coming to work under the influence of marijuana, but standard drug tests do not prove someone is impaired at the time of the test and positive results could reflect marijuana use that occurred weeks before the test was done.
Q: What about smoking pot and driving?
A: It will remain illegal – and dangerous – to drive while intoxicated, whether because of alcohol use or marijuana use. There is no existing test similar to an alcohol Breathalyzer to determine intoxication by marijuana, so police officers will use field sobriety tests and other evidence to determine whether someone has used marijuana before getting behind the wheel.
Q: Can I buy a gun if I use marijuana?
A: No. Federally licensed firearms dealers cannot sell guns to people who use marijuana, even in states where it is legal for recreational or medicinal use. This is because marijuana is illegal on the federal level.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: