On Oct. 23, the governor called the Legislature in for a “Special Session” to deal with two items that he felt needed the Legislature to fix. One, the Food Sovereignty Law, which would allow the sale of farm products to the open market and funding for a state agency that provides GIS mapping data for towns and other entities that was inadvertently left out of the budget.

While those should have been simple matters to deal with, it also presented an opportunity for the Legislature to attempt to tackle several other issues left unfinished in the last session. These would not be so easy!

Recreational use of marijuana, now known as “Adult Use,” passed by a citizens’ referendum, has been a hot button issue throughout the last legislative session, with a special committee established to deal with the 70-plus bills submitted to deal with the implementation of this ballot question. This bill, as passed by the voters, had many technical and legal problems associated with its implementation and the committee has struggled with finding the necessary improvements to allow rules to be crafted for retail sales beginning by Feb. 1.

A bill was drafted, late in the summer and early fall, which attempted to start that process. Unfortunately, the entire Legislature only received the final proposed bill late the Friday afternoon before the special session was to be held. With some 76 pages of very complicated legal language, many of us spent the entire weekend trying to dissect the full text of the bill. Not an easy task!

While I appreciate the work of the committee, several issues concerned me greatly. One was that the bill, as drafted, allowed for the comingling of both retail and medicinal marijuana. From the beginning it has been clear to me, and others, including the governor, that there needs to be a complete separation of the two business models as their distribution streams and taxation schedules are completely different or a single regulatory system that combines both under one set of rules.

Another concern for me was the taxation schedule that was being proposed in the bill. While I support an increase in the sales tax from 10 percent, as proposed in the initial legislation, to a 20 percent tax, the bill as proposed established a different and much more complicated tax structure using a combination of sales tax as well as an excise tax levied on the actual product as grown.

Taxation policy is very complicated and this should have gone to the Taxation Committee for their review prior to the entire Legislature attempting to deal with a tax policy that hadn’t been thoroughly vetted. The fiscal notes showed that under the proposed taxation the bill attempted to implement, it would have cost taxpayers of Maine some $6 million over the next five years of implementation while in year seven it would start to raise some revenue, however small. A straight 20 percent sales tax would have yielded revenue in year three of implementation, a system I would have preferred. Either system was diverting general funds dollars into the implementation and thus should have also been reviewed by the Appropriations Committee.

A final issue that hasn’t been addressed either here or elsewhere where marijuana is legal is the banking issue. All the money collected in the sales and distribution of marijuana cannot be legally deposited in any banks. While some state chartered credit unions will take some of the proceeds, the vast majority of the money remains as cash. Will the taxes collected from the sale of retail marijuana be delivered to the state taxation office in brown paper bags? Will this amount of onsite cash create a police enforcement concern? This is a federal issue that needs resolution.

I agree that we need to regulate this new commodity in Maine but I wasn’t convinced this bill got it right. For me, if I have doubts on a bill’s effectiveness at addressing an issue, I must vote no until I have ample information that the bill takes us in the right direction. I had hoped this bill would have been carried into our next session so that much needed review could have been done. 

As of the writing of this article, on Monday the governor vetoed the bill and the Legislature had gone back in session to deal with the veto. The veto was sustained on a bipartisan vote by a significant margin. I continued to oppose the bill until the issues I have outlined, and those raised by the governor, are dealt with sufficiently to assure me and my constituents that needed safe guards are in place. 

One hearing I attended on this issue featured a speaker from Colorado who deals with the public policy and enforcement side of the marijuana regulations. His advice to us was,” take your time, get it right up front, and learn from our mistake”. It is my hope that we do exactly that and this bill moved way to fast with too many questions left unanswered to get it right.

— Rep. Robert Foley, R-Foley, represents House District 7 , which includes part of Wells.


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