A bill that would extend the adult-use marijuana sales moratorium until the end of this legislative session isn’t sitting well with House Republicans or Gov. Paul LePage.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette said Tuesday that he and LePage want to continue the moratorium that has stalled the launch of Maine’s recreational market until January 2019. A bill now before lawmakers would extend an existing moratorium, due to expire Feb. 1., until April 18. But that bill does not give state regulators writing market rules the nine months they will need to do a good job, Fredette said.

“If the moratorium (deadline) is April 18, I suspect the governor vetoes that bill,” Fredette said. “That’s just my hunch, but it’s probably going to happen.”

LePage did not respond to a request for confirmation or comment. But LePage himself introduced a moratorium bill with a January 2019 expiration date during the last legislative session. That moratorium was shot down and the Legislature approved an omnibus rewrite of the recreational marijuana law that voters approved by a narrow margin in a November 2016 referendum. LePage vetoed that bill and Fredette led a coalition of House Republicans that sustained the veto.

“I’m not saying we’re not going to do this, but we need to slow it down and do it right,” Fredette said last October in the days leading up to the special session vote. “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.”

The proposed April 18 moratorium bill was unanimously approved by the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee last week, and is likely to come up for a vote Thursday on the Senate floor. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he chose the April 18 date to give the committee that he helps lead enough time to finish work on its second attempt to launch the adult-use market. That final bill will include longer timelines for actual implementation, Katz said.

But Fredette and LePage view the short-term moratorium as a way to force those who had voted against an adult-use legalization bill last year to approve this next one, Fredette said. Those who have problems with certain provisions of the omnibus bill – such as licensing marijuana social clubs in five years – would have to vote “yes” on the final legalization bill despite those reservations, or live with the consequences of an expired moratorium, he said.

“I want to look at making good policy,” said Fredette, R-Newport. “I don’t like having a deadline forcing us to get something done. We are not looking to delay this. Everybody knows this passed at referendum and it needs to get done. People should recognize that we are working earnestly, working hard on it. But I don’t like feeling like we are getting pushed in a corner because of a looming deadline.”

The consequences of allowing the Feb. 1 deadline in the first moratorium bill to lapse without action is unclear. Even Katz himself said he doesn’t think a state moratorium on retail recreational pot is necessary because no one can get a license to grow, manufacture or sell adult-use cannabis in Maine without a state license, and the licensing framework has not even been crafted yet, much less implemented.

But Katz told the legalization committee last week that he thought extending the moratorium would send a reassuring message to Maine cities and towns that worry would-be applicants will exploit the lapse to get a jump on the local licensing process. Towns worry that refusing to accept a local application until the state rules are set could lead to a lawsuit.

The April 18 deadline isn’t Fredette’s or LePage’s only concern about the implementation committee’s work, Fredette said. They want the committee to ban social clubs, address impaired-driving concerns and put Maine’s medical and adult-use marijuana programs under the control of a single agency. The pending committee bill pushed social club licensing out five years and directs a new advisory commission to consider ways to consolidate certain aspects of the two state marijuana programs.

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

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