State lawmakers want to cut by half the amount of recreational marijuana that a Mainer can legally grow.

The law adopted by citizen referendum in 2016 allowed each person up to six flowering plants, but the committee tasked with overhauling the referendum language and launching the adult-use market voted Friday to cut the maximum number of flowering plants that an adult can grow in Maine to three. Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said the reduction is a compromise that makes the bill more attractive to opponents and more likely to pass.

“I have colleagues that are very uncomfortable with the image of these little marijuana farms in everybody’s backyards,” Dion said Friday. “Six plants may not sound like that much until you live next door to a house with four adults. Now you’re talking 24 plants, and that’s a lot. … I think sometimes referendum activists forget we didn’t carry the day with an 80 percent majority. We barely won. We have to remember almost half the state didn’t want this at all.”

GROW SIZE A NEW FLASHPOINT

Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, spoke out against the reduction, saying that those who asked “How much pot do you really need?” didn’t understand the local growing cycles.

When it comes to cannabis, a recreational user might spend one summer on a really good crop and not have to grow again for three years. On the other hand, a bad year might force a recreational user to double-up on his next grow to make up for losses.

Hickman reminded the committee that it had told constituents that the “home grow” part of the initiative was safe at the outset of its overhaul efforts.

“No one has come to us to say we need this piece of emergency legislation to regulate home grow,” Hickman said. “Why are we doing this?”

The committee tried to pass a major overhaul of the referendum last fall, but Gov. Paul LePage vetoed its bill and LePage’s allies in the House sustained it. LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, gave a number of reasons for their opposition, ranging from worries about a potential spike in impaired driving to a lack of coordination with the medical cannabis program, but the size of an adult’s personal grow was not among them.

Last year, Colorado’s former marijuana czar, Andrew Freedman, testified about the problems of unchecked personal grows in Colorado, which he said had led to supply overages that ended up being sold on the black market and several deadly robberies. But Colorado’s personal-grow plant limit had been much higher than even Maine’s referendum activists had ever dreamed about – 99 plants per household. Last year, Colorado dropped its adult-use count plant down to 12.

AVOIDING FEDERAL ATTENTION

Sen. Roger Katz, the Senate chairman of Maine’s marijuana committee, said the committee was concerned about seeing home-grown marijuana ending up on the black market and attracting the attention of federal regulators, especially now, when legalization states like Maine are waiting to see what anti-cannabis U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his network of U.S. attorneys, including Maine’s Halsey Frank, will do about state-licensed marijuana operations.

“We want to respect the privilege the law grants for people to grow their own while doing everything we can to avoid diversion,” Katz said.

He said the six plants allowed under the voter-approved Marijuana Legalization Act was the most generous personal grow allotment in the nation now that Colorado had implemented its new home-grow rules. Generally, the committee doesn’t want to do anything that would make Maine a cannabis trailblazer, he said. The committee said much the same thing when it voted last month to postpone consideration of social club licenses until 2023.

SIX PLANTS FOR MEDICAL GROWERS

Activists decried the personal grow changes. While many parts of the initiative language have been on hold, because of a legislative moratorium and a lack of licensing rules, Mainers have been able to grow up to six plants for recreational use since January 2016. If this reduction were to go into effect, the state will rip the heart out of the law, said Legalize Maine President Paul McCarrier, whose group wrote the referendum initiative.

“It was the one thing that everybody asked – can I grow my own and how much can I grow?” McCarrier said. “We set it at six because that is exactly how many plants the state allows a medical patient to grow. It makes it easy for enforcement. It makes it easy for Joe Six Plant to understand. Why change it? It makes no sense. If they really are worried about home grow leading to diversion, then they should put a limit on the number of commercial licenses. That’s what’s really going to flood the market.”

The committee is voting on aspects of the implementation bill as it goes along, but it will not take a final vote on the entire bill until next week.

Once it takes that final vote, the bill will go to the full Legislature, which could take up the bill before the end of the month. The committee has said it would try to work with LePage on the bill to make good policy that is still palatable to him, and they are also openly talking about building enough support to override another veto.

The proposal would allow people who are certified by a doctor to grow marijuana for an approved medical condition to grow their three adult-use plants in addition to the six medical marijuana plants under the state’s current medical use of marijuana program, Dion said.

It gives rural towns the freedom to allow a property owner to rent his land out to those who want to grow their own adult-use marijuana as long as it is not visible to the public or causes an odor problem.

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

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