AUGUSTA — The Maine House overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday that would require the state’s Department of Agriculture to set up testing facilities so it could test marijuana for safety before it is sold for recreational use.

The bill faces further votes in both the House and Senate, and will likely face the scrutiny of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has urged lawmakers to put the regulation of marijuana wholly in the hands of the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, which oversees the state’s wholesale liquor business and its lottery games.

The bill, approved by the House on a 101-32 vote, is the first from a special select committee of the Legislature that was established to set up a regulatory regime for recreational marijuana, which was approved by voters at the ballot box last November.

While the voter-passed law already makes it legal for an adult 21 or over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or to grow up to six marijuana plants, it also made the commercial sale of marijuana legal and lawmakers have been working on legislation to make that work.

Thursday’s vote follows an earlier 17-0 vote by the special committee to require the Department of Agriculture to test commercially grown marijuana for safety. But opponents of the bill said the Department of Agriculture, which provides food safety inspections for produce and dairy products in Maine, does not have the resources to also test recreational marijuana.

According to the fiscal notes on the bill, the measure is expected to cost the state about $175,000 a year, but that cost would eventually be paid for with taxes on recreational marijuana.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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