AUGUSTA — Lawmakers began the long process of guiding Maine’s transition into the marijuana marketplace on Tuesday by reviewing policies in other states that have legalized the drug and outlining their priorities for the months ahead.

While recreational marijuana became legal for Mainers age 21 and older on Jan. 30, retail sales of cannabis products are still at least a year away, so state agencies have time to craft rules for licensing, regulation and enforcement. The 17 members of the Legislature’s Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation are expected to help with that complex process as they review the legalization process in other states and analyze more than 50 bills related to marijuana that have been introduced by lawmakers this session.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the committee’s co-chairman, said Tuesday he hopes the committee can consolidate many of those proposals into a single bill – or several bills – for consideration by the full Legislature in the 2018 session. If there’s one consistent message he’s heard from policymakers in other states, Katz said, it is that Maine shouldn’t move too fast to allow retail sales of a drug that is still considered illegal under federal law.

“We can’t finish this by June,” Katz said, referring to the Legislature’s statutory adjournment date. “If we are going to do this in a thorough way, we are going to continue this at least into the summer.”

On Tuesday, committee members began exploring some of the policy differences in three of the four states – Colorado, Washington and Oregon – that were among the first to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana.

Colorado, for instance, saw an initial explosion of so-called “pot shops” after legalization because the state did not limit the number of licenses. Washington state, on the other hand, initially capped the number of retail outlets at 334 statewide but eventually increased that cap. Oregon stipulated that its licensing agency consider the geographic location of proposed stores to ensure consumers don’t have to turn to the black market.

Colorado has issued 463 licenses for retail stores compared to 310 retail licenses in Oregon and 481 in Washington.

The ballot initiative passed by Maine voters last November prohibits the state from limiting the number of retail stores but does cap the total square footage of marijuana cultivation. The initiative also allows municipalities to prohibit or restrict retail operations within their boundaries.

States also have different limits on how much individuals can possess. Oregon allows individuals to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana at home while Colorado only allows possession of 1 ounce. Maine’s law allows personal possession of up to 2.5 ounces, but only 5 grams can be in the form of concentrate.

Committee members also adopted a set of “guiding principles” for their work. Those principles included language to “create framework that protects the health, safety and well-being of citizens and protects youth”; developing a legal system that provides guidance to employers, landlords and academic institutions; and creating a system of taxation and licensing that will cover the cost of regulation and enforcement.

On Feb. 28, the Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation will hold a meeting to gather public feedback on the legalization process and the scope of the committee’s work. Katz said the public comment meeting will be generic in nature because the committee is not expected to begin working on most marijuana-related bills for several months.

The first bill likely to be considered by the committee is one that has already been in the news and was, in some ways, pre-empted by Gov. Paul LePage. The bill, L.D. 243 sponsored by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would transfer oversight of marijuana licensing and regulation to the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations while providing $1.6 million to the agency. LePage used his executive authority to transfer oversight to the bureau after getting in a spat with lawmakers over emergency changes to the law just before legalization on Jan. 30.

While there appeared to be strong support in the Legislature for the shift, lawmakers could opt for a different oversight structure, despite LePage’s executive order.

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

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