Legalize Maine has come out against the proposed legislative rewrite of a voter-approved recreational marijuana law, saying the bill scheduled for a special session vote Monday isn’t “ready for prime time.”

The group’s president, Paul T. McCarrier, said the amendment to the state Marijuana Legalization Act would create chaos in the new market, making it difficult for marijuana businesses to find a place to set up shop. The group would rather the state move ahead with drafting the rules for a licensing and tax structure based on the current law, which was approved by voters last fall, he said Tuesday.

“This (new bill) will only encourage the black market in Maine and is the exact opposite of what the voters of Maine approved,” McCarrier said.

Legalize Maine had criticized the bill adopted by a Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation this month for requiring towns to “opt in” to the adult-use marijuana market, for adding a 10 percent wholesale tax that would require adult-use cannabis growers to turn over large sums of money to town clerks that aren’t prepared for cash payments, and for the committee’s secretive actions.

The bill would require towns to “opt in” to the state’s new recreational marijuana market by taking municipal action to allow adult-use cannabis growers, manufacturers, stores and testing labs to open within their borders. The voter-approved law promised towns the right to prohibit such marijuana businesses, which supporters say gives towns the right to “opt out” through a ban or moratorium.

OPPOSED TO ‘OPT-IN’ LANGUAGE

McCarrier believes the “opt-in” language, which was not added to the proposed bill until after the September public hearing, would make it too difficult for the new adult-use market to “get off the ground” because it’s harder to persuade a town to adopt pro-marijuana legislation than it is to persuade them not to adopt an outright marijuana ban.

“The process of how this language was inserted is disturbing and makes this bill not ready for prime time,” McCarrier said.

Many Maine communities, including some where the majority of voters supported legalization in last year’s referendum, are passing adult-use cannabis moratoriums until the state hashes out its final regulatory structure, and some are even voting to go dry. Supporters of opt-in say the language is critical to winning legislative support for the bill.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Democrat Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, who co-chaired the marijuana committee, say opt-in gives towns the local control that was promised in the voter-approved law that Legalize Maine helped to pass. It was one of the things that the municipalities asked for at the packed public hearing, and was celebrated at this month’s Maine Municipal Association convention.

In a joint statement, Katz and Pierce said Tuesday that McCarrier’s “11th-hour opposition is unfortunate, surprising and disappointing.”

“Local control is a centerpiece of this bill – a concept which is supported by virtually everyone else and is in keeping with the Maine way,” they wrote. “We went with an ‘opt-in’ system because this is exactly how state law works with alcohol, and it seemed appropriate to mirror that.”

They said they don’t believe Legalize Maine’s opposition would kill the bill.

“We are confident that our colleagues will approve this bill because the alternative is chaos,” they wrote. “We are proud of our committee’s work and the totally transparent process we followed.”

OTHER POT GROUP STILL ON BOARD

The state chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project is still supporting the bill, said its director, David Boyer. He said he is disappointed that Legalize Maine couldn’t support the bill – especially since it had been so actively involved in the months-long process and provided hours of expert testimony – but that he does not believe Legalize Maine’s turnabout would kill the bill’s chances.

“While the regulations may not be perfect, we feel that this bill still represents what the voters wanted when they supported our campaign to regulate marijuana like alcohol,” Boyer said. “Implementation should not be delayed any further.”

The state’s biggest marijuana opposition group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, supports the bill, although its leader, Scott Gagnon, says there are problems that he would quickly work with lawmakers to fix if the bill were to pass as currently written. One example he offers is scuttling a part of the bill that allows youth access to non-restricted areas in recreational marijuana stores.

“SAM Maine is a strong supporter of the ‘opt-in’ language added to the bill. We believe this is in the spirit of the local control voters were sold during the campaign,” Gagnon said. “While we still have several issues with this bill, we can’t deny that it is better than the initiative as was passed by voters.”

NEXT UP: LEGISLATURE, GOVERNOR

The committee bill calls for a 20 percent combination tax on recreational marijuana, sets a two-year residency requirement for license holders, and places no limits on the amount of marijuana that can be grown in Maine. The voter-approved law calls for a 10 percent sales tax, gives caregivers a license advantage and limits the amount of land in Maine that can be used to grow marijuana to 800,000 square feet, or about 18.4 acres.

The Legislature is expected to consider the bill at a special session Monday. Gov. Paul LePage spoke out in opposition to the referendum question last fall, but has remained silent on the committee bill. State agencies have declined to assist the committee in its work, however, prompting supporters to say they will try to secure enough legislative votes to ensure override potential for an expected gubernatorial veto.

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

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