Maine may make purchasing an ounce of marijuana almost as easy as buying a six-pack of beer.

Proposed adult-use cannabis regulations from the Legislature’s marijuana committee would allow licensed retail stores to sell pot from drive-up windows and over the internet. Like any other recreational marijuana consumer, drive-up and online customers would have to show identification to the window or delivery employee to prove they are at least 21 years old.

Supporters say such retail conveniences are already available to the state’s alcohol industry and will help Maine’s new legal marijuana market compete with a thriving illegal market. But opponents, including a leader of the marijuana committee, warn against making it too easy to buy a drug that is still illegal under federal law, and too hard for new state regulators to track sales.

“If Maine allows it for alcohol, we see no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed for marijuana, the safer substance, so long as Maine puts in place reasonable regulations to protect public safety and the consumer,” said David Boyer, director of the Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project. “The voters want it regulated and taxed like alcohol. The rules should be the same.”

TOO SOON FOR EASY PURCHASING?

But state Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta said allowances for drive-thrus and home delivery should be stripped from the proposed bill to decrease the risk that delivered marijuana will end up in the hands of underage users or residents of towns that have adopted a local ban on marijuana sales. Delivered marijuana might more easily be diverted across state lines, which could draw unwanted federal attention to Maine’s newly legal recreational market, he said.

“Given the fact that about half the people in the state voted against legalization, I think we ought to go slow and be cautious in the beginning,” said Katz, Republican co-chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation. “But this is a legislative process. We reach decisions collectively. This is just a draft. I anticipate a vigorous debate. We’ve still got a ways to go yet.”

The committee’s bill, which sets up the regulatory framework for commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and sales, will be the subject of a public hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room 228 at the State House in Augusta. The committee will reconvene Sept. 27 and 28 to discuss the bill. If the committee approves it, the full Legislature will likely consider it next month.

BUYERS FACE 20% SALES TAX

The bill essentially outlines how the new market would work, from who could grow recreational marijuana and the cost of a license, to the maximum amount of THC allowed in an edible marijuana product and how much marijuana would be taxed. The committee had hoped adult-use licensing would begin in February, but now says it is unlikely to hit that deadline.

Although advocates support drive-thru, online and home delivery options and hope the language will stay in the bill, they say they won’t draw a line in the sand over them if they put the bill’s future at risk. The proposed 20 percent sales tax rate is a much bigger burden for recreational cannabis users than having to make face-to-face, in-store purchases, said Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine.

“Back in July, the committee agreed that delivery would help combat the black market,” said McCarrier, whose advocacy group helped pass the statewide ballot measure that legalized adult-use marijuana in Maine. “We know that convenience is one of the big reasons that somebody turns to the black market, but price is an even bigger one. That is our top priority, keeping it affordable for Mainers.”

The Marijuana Legalization Act approved by citizen initiative last fall did not address drive-thru windows or online cannabis sales and delivery. Something that is not prohibited in state law is usually legal by default. Although these provisions were not mentioned in the initiative, supporters argue that the legalization campaign was based on the belief that marijuana should be treated like alcohol.

In Maine, stores that sell alcohol can have drive-up windows and alcohol can be purchased online for delivery by the liquor store to a consumer’s home, said spokesman David Heidrichs of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, which oversees the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations and will soon regulate the sale of adult-use marijuana.

A liquor store cannot deliver alcohol to one of Maine’s so-called dry towns, even if the store is located in a town that permits liquor sales, said Heidrichs, because the point of sale in such a transaction is actually the consumer’s home, and local law applies. It is unclear if local marijuana bans would prevent home delivery of online marijuana purchases.

WHAT SOME OTHER STATES DO

Five states allow recreational marijuana sales now. In Oregon, state law allows home delivery of up to $3,000 worth of adult-use cannabis, but many municipalities forbid it, including Portland. Washington doesn’t allow drive-thru windows. Alaska prohibits internet sales and home delivery, but its law does not address drive-thrus. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently killed a home delivery bill there.

Colorado’s former “marijuana czar,” Andrew Freedman, said it might be easier for a state like Maine, which is new to the regulatory game and has the advantage of launching with the latest seed-to-sale tracking systems, to consider allowing conveniences like these than it is in states with an established adult-use regulatory system.

“In Colorado, we thought it would be too hard to maintain the integrity of what was then the country’s first-in-the-nation, seed-to-sale marijuana tracking system,” said Freedman, who left his state job in January to launch a Denver-based cannabis consulting firm. “We did not want to do anything to make it harder for our regulators to do their job, and in-store sales was a big part of that strategy.”

THE LEGAL AND ILLEGAL MARKETS

Colorado allows drive-thru liquor stores and home delivery of alcohol purchased online, but Freedman said alcohol and marijuana are not the same thing – especially in the eyes of federal authorities, who could at any time decide to crack down on states that allow medical or adult-use marijuana sales. Demonstrating a robust regulatory system is one way for a legalized state to avoid that, he said.

While states should take steps to encourage black-market producers and consumers to go legitimate, they shouldn’t try to make the legal and illegal marijuana worlds the same, Freedman said, or they risk losing many of the safety and public health benefits of a state-regulated market. But as technology improves and more states legalize, this kind of innovation is likely to happen, he said.

California will likely allow drive-thru windows, online sales and home delivery. A draft version of regulations released this year allows for them, but these regulations had to be pulled last month and may be rewritten because of a rider attached to the annual budget bill calling for the merger of the state’s medical and adult-use markets. Most of the draft rules are expected to stand, however.

POT DELIVERY ROBBERIES IN NEVADA

In Nevada, early attempts to innovate hit a wall after a rash of marijuana delivery robberies.

The state’s temporary startup rules have allowed home delivery since retail sales started July 1, but regulators decided to cut it out of the permanent regulations they proposed in August, saying the possibility of fraud and driver robberies was too high.

But store owners there are fighting the change. Nevada regulators are expected to release an updated version of its draft rules later this month.

Massachusetts is a few steps ahead of Maine in launching its adult-use market, which voters there approved through citizen initiative last fall. State lawmakers rewrote the law in July, but the new version doesn’t mention drive-thrus, delivery or online sales. It will be up to the newly appointed Cannabis Control Commission to consider these issues before adult-use sales are likely to begin in the summer.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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