House Republican Leader Ken Fredette and Gov. Paul LePage joined forces Thursday on a last-minute effort to delay the launch of Maine’s new adult-use marijuana market until January 2019, a move that frustrated some members of a committee that has spent months trying to finalize regulations to govern the state’s recreational pot industry.

Fredette and LePage want state lawmakers to kill the legislative committee bill that would set up Maine’s regulatory framework for recreational cannabis, saying it’s too big, complex and controversial for lawmakers to debate in a single day. The full Legislature is scheduled to return and vote on the bill Monday.

Instead, LePage submitted a Fredette bill that calls for legislators to extend the existing moratorium on the commercial aspects of the marijuana law from February 2018 to January 2019.

It is unreasonable to ask lawmakers to come in from their summer break and read, debate and approve in a single special session a 76-page law on a controversial topic that voters passed by a razor-thin margin last November, Fredette said.

“I’m not saying we’re not going to do this, but we need to slow it down and do it right,” he said. “You can’t just plop a bill this big down and say pass it right now or we’ll have chaos. That is not how you make laws here in Maine.”

LEGISLATORS UNFAMILIAR WITH BILL

Many lawmakers have told Fredette they don’t know enough about the committee bill to vote for it, he said. The bill covers everything from tax rates to testing requirements to license fees and rules.

But they also don’t want the language approved by voters to go into effect without tightening the loopholes, such as the section that allows marijuana social clubs, Fredette said.

“A moratorium is the least lousy option,” he said. “It gives the Legislature time to come back in regular session in January and debate this bill right. It is a major change for Maine. It shouldn’t be rushed.”

The reaction to the proposed moratorium was mixed.

Legalize Maine, the advocacy group that wrote the referendum question and represents the interests of many medical marijuana caregivers, had pulled its support for the committee bill, saying it was “not ready for prime time.”

The group had hoped the bill would fail and the existing language of the citizen initiative would go into effect, which would give medical marijuana caregivers a big leg up in a new market. A continued moratorium would scuttle that dream, for now.

The Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, which along with Legalize Maine helped organize the citizen initiative, supports the committee bill, and criticized Fredette and LePage for trying to delay the will of the voters.

“We hope lawmakers will not let their work be in vain or the will of the people be delayed,” said director David Boyer. “It’s a shame (Fredette and LePage) are trying to hijack the legislative process by proposing further delays.”

He said the committee allowed for ample input from the public and lawmakers.

ACCUSATIONS OF ‘OBSTRUCTIONISM’

The committee leaders, Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta and Democrat Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, criticized Fredette and LePage for sitting on the sidelines while the committee sought their help to craft the law.

They have complained that neither LePage nor most state agencies that they invited to advise the committee would provide assistance, leaving them alone to consult with local industry players and experts from other states.

“The 11th-hour attempt to wreak havoc is obstructionism for no good reason,” Katz said. “Their unwillingness to problem-solve is irresponsible to the voters, the businesses and the communities of Maine.”

Pierce accused Fredette and LePage of “kicking the can down the road” and “disrespecting voters.” Stalling implementation of a legal regulatory system is handing the market over to criminals, Pierce said.

The last-minute governor’s bill adds a lot of uncertainty to an already chaotic special session. Fredette thinks lawmakers will go the safe route and support a moratorium, but Katz and Pierce say the committee’s bill will pass on its merits.

LePage’s spokeswoman did not respond to an after-hours request for details about the governor’s position on the committee bill, but Fredette, Katz and Pierce agreed he must support a moratorium if he submitted Fredette’s bill.

VOTE MAY NOT GO ALONG PARTY LINES

The committee bill requires 100 votes in the 150-member House to qualify as “emergency legislation,” which means it would go into effect as soon as the session closes. It needs two-thirds of those present and voting to override a LePage veto.

There are 74 Democrats, 69 Republicans and seven independents currently serving in the House, which has one vacancy. Two of the independents are former Republicans. But the vote may not go along party lines.

The marijuana committee approved its bill, 15-2. Although it enjoyed bipartisan support, the bill also engendered bipartisan dissent – Democratic Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop and Republican Rep. Patrick Corey of Windham opposed it.

If the moratorium passes, lawmakers would have more time to review the bill and state agencies would have more time to write rules to govern the market and calculate the fiscal impact.

As of Thursday, the projected fiscal impact of the bill is still unknown, but one state agency predicted a combination of a 10 percent sales tax and an excise tax would generate $20 million a year in new revenue for the state.

If the moratorium extension were to pass, Mainers could continue to grow up to six mature plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal use. It is the only major part of the voter-approved law unaffected by a moratorium.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at:

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