AUGUSTA — The Maine House and Senate passed a legislative rewrite of the Marijuana Legalization Act on Monday night, but both votes failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to override a likely veto by Gov. Paul LePage.

The approvals came after lawmakers in the House rejected a bill from LePage to extend the current moratorium on rulemaking, licensing and commercial sales of adult-use marijuana until January 2019.

The regulatory bill now goes to LePage’s desk, a longtime marijuana opponent. The Republican has 10 days – until Nov. 3 – to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. Both parties expect him to veto the bill, even though supporters recall an election campaign pledge to not stand in the way of a successful referendum vote.

“This was not a vote for or against recreational marijuana use. Maine voters decided that already,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, the Democratic co-chair of the committee that wrote the bill. “This was our chance to do our job and protect the people of Maine as we follow the law and create this new industry. I’m proud that we’ve done that.”

Supporters say the committee bill closes loopholes in the voter-approved law and will help raise tax revenues, give Mainers a licensing advantage and help diminish the black market. Critics say the bill was rushed, flawed and needs more work.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport voted against the committee bill, predicting that lawmakers will have to return in January to extend the current moratorium that has postponed commercial licensing, cultivation and sales until February 2018.

Although he lost his bid for a moratorium extension Monday, and the committee bill passed, Fredette still claimed that House Republicans had dealt a “potentially fatal blow to a flawed marijuana bill” because it didn’t have the 101 House votes needed to override a veto.

“With today’s vote, the Legislature clearly does not have enough votes to move this bill forward over a governor’s veto,” Fredette said. “There is obviously more work to be done when we return in January.”

Supporters of the bill focused on its conservative aspects, such as scuttling drive-thru windows and home delivery, tighter local control that requires towns to “opt in” to the marijuana market rather than “opting out,” and 1,000-foot buffers around schools.

“It is not an endorsement of the legalization of marijuana,” Pierce told the House. “It is to establish a highly structured regulatory system for this new industry in Maine.”

But some members of the marijuana implementation committee, including one from each party, told colleagues why they voted against the bill. Democrat Craig Hickman, an organic farmer from Winthrop, criticized limits on people’s ability to grow marijuana on their land, or let others grow on it.

Patrick Corey, a House Republican on the joint committee, criticized the bill’s excise and sales tax scheme, saying it wouldn’t recalculate the wholesale tax often enough to follow the market fluctuations. That means the bill would fall short of revenue predictions, Corey said.

Corey predicted the bill wouldn’t even pay for the cost of running the regulatory program.

Rep. Don Marean, R-Hollis, a committee member, said the bill was not perfect.

“But we need to start someplace,” he said. “I do not want to go home and tell constituents that I voted against regulating marijuana, which is a federally scheduled drug. This vote was not to legalize marijuana. This vote is to regulate it.”

The House voted 85-53 in favor of the marijuana bill, and then later, when a technical glitch on the first vote forced the House to do it again, 84-52. A few hours later, the Senate voted 22-9 for a non-emergency version of the same bill.

On the Senate side, Sen. Roger Katz picked up Pierce’s conservative tone to sell the bill to a skeptical minority in hopes of hitting veto-proof numbers. He reminded those in the chamber who might vote “no” that he, too, had voted against the marijuana referendum last fall.

“You may have voted against it, like I did,” Katz said. “But now is the time to make it work.”

He urged his colleagues to channel their “inner John Hickenlooper,” referencing the Colorado governor who opposed that state’s legalization referendum but went on to oversee implementation of the nation’s first adult-use cannabis market.

The measure met with harsh criticism from Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, a former statewide director of the DARE program who predicted that marijuana use among Maine youth and the state’s impaired driving statistics would skyrocket if the bill passed.

“We are on the brink of a disaster,” he said. “But if we act responsibly now, we can save Maine.”

But Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn said the bill “is the best starting place we have” for what the voters approved last fall. He told colleagues the bill could be tweaked with follow-up laws in the next term to prevent Maine from falling behind other states that have already legalized.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at:

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