Maine lawmakers this week wrapped up their efforts to rewrite the state’s marijuana laws for adult-use recreational sales and for medical use.

The legislative outline of Maine’s adult-use cannabis market was finalized last month when lawmakers overturned a gubernatorial veto and paved the way for adult-use sales in 2019. And late Tuesday night, lawmakers adopted a sweeping medical cannabis reform bill that now sits on Gov. Paul LePage’s desk for review.

LePage, whose sharp criticism of Maine’s medical use of marijuana program was oft-repeated as he voiced his opposition to commercial adult-use sales, has 10 days to decide if he will sign, veto or allow the medical marijuana reform bill to become law without his signature.

On Wednesday, the morning after the bill’s late-night approval, LePage remained silent on his plans.

Together with the law passed last month, the votes this week – if they become law – will change how people can legally grow, sell, manufacture, authorize and consume all forms of cannabis. Here is a look at what is in store for all of them.

RECREATIONAL MARKET

After lawmakers shot down a bill Tuesday that would have forced another statewide vote on legalization, Maine is still on track to ramp up its recreational marijuana marketplace.

Since voters embraced legalization in a 2016 referendum, lawmakers have rewritten the law to make it more palatable to the 49 percent of Mainers who voted against legalization and to gain the support of a supermajority of legislators needed to override a likely LePage veto.

That meant taking the bill that failed in 2017 and making it more conservative. Lawmakers abandoned the idea of social clubs where people could consume pot to win over those who worried it could fuel a spike in impaired driving. They killed the plan to share cannabis tax revenues with host towns out of fear of incentivizing the spread of the industry. And they set a 20 percent effective tax , double that approved by voters.

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It remains legal for Mainers 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and use it in their homes, but buying it legally from a recreational marijuana storefront won’t be a reality for a while.

The new law, which went into effect May 3, puts the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services in charge of licensing all cannabis grows, testing labs, manufacturing plants and stores, as well as enforcement of both adult-use and medical program rules.

Maine still must hire a consultant to write the technical rules, which likely will take nine months to produce and would be subject to review by the next Legislature. Once the rules are approved, Administrative and Financial Services must hire its full enforcement staff and begin processing adult-use cannabis applications and issuing licenses. The first recreational sales are likely to occur late in 2019.

Best guess? If you want to use recreational marijuana in Maine, plan on growing and harvesting your own until at least next fall.

GROWING YOUR OWN FOR ADULT USE

The law passed in May will change how Mainers can grow recreational marijuana at home, starting later this year.

Home growing had been the only part of the citizen referendum law that Maine put into effect immediately. The state initially allowed adults to grow as many as six flowering plants in their homes, on their land, or on someone else’s land with permission. But after Colorado shared its concerns about runaway home grows, Maine lawmakers cut the home grow limit to three mature plants.

The state is giving home growers a six-month grace period, or until November, to shrink their personal gardens down to three plants.

GIFTING

The recreational-use law closes the so-called gifting loophole in the citizen initiative that allowed online companies to give recreational marijuana to anyone willing to pay a comparable amount for another item, like a gift jar, a painting or delivery.

Maine law still allows someone to give marijuana to another person, but it now prohibits remuneration of any kind, even indirectly. Nevertheless, some companies continue to advertise commercial gifting services.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA CAREGIVERS

The bill passed Tuesday would crack down on medical marijuana caregivers – the people who supply marijuana to qualified medical patients – by authorizing unannounced state inspections.

It also would require explicit approval from the host towns before they can open shops outside their homes.

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On the other hand, the bill also would give them the ability to grow their businesses by allowing them to hire more than one employee and to treat as many people as possible from 30 mature plants. Right now, caregivers are technically limited to five patients at a time, although many exceed that number by routinely subtracting and adding patients in their customer base.

Despite the additional oversight, the caregiver trade group, Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, supported the bill.

“While not perfect, (it) supports greater patient access and safety, and expands caregivers’ ability to serve their patients and operate as small businesses,” the group said in an email to members. “They gain the ability to hire the staff they need, to wholesale a portion of product grown when needed, access to processors that specialize, and clarity around the inspection process.”

DOCTORS AND PATIENTS

Under the pending bill, doctors could certify a patient for cannabis use for any medically beneficial purpose. This would make Maine the first state to ditch the list of medical conditions that qualify someone to use marijuana.

Patients also would no longer have to give their patient card to a caregiver or dispensary, something that in the past had discouraged patients from shopping around.

DISPENSARIES

The bill would expand the number of state-licensed dispensaries in Maine from the eight that currently exist to a total of 14 within three years.

Some of the state’s higher-volume caregivers say that will give them a chance to compete with the likes of Wellness Connection, which is Maine’s largest provider of medical marijuana and operates four of the state’s eight dispensaries.

The bill also would allow dispensaries to convert from nonprofit to for-profit operations. The dispensaries have argued they had to follow all the rules for a nonprofit but could not exploit any of the tax advantages afforded nonprofits because they remain illegal on a federal level. The change would also make it easier for them to compete in Maine’s increasingly crowded cannabis market, they say.

CITIES AND TOWNS

The reform bill would offer municipalities that same opt-in protection for medical cannabis shops as the adult-use law afforded towns for adult-use shops.

In other words, towns would have to vote or take some specific legislative or zoning action to authorize a caregiver shop within their borders before a caregiver could make sales outside a home-based operation. The bill would allow a municipality to shut down a store that opens without authorization.

The bill would not allow a town to stop caregivers from growing or selling from their house, said trade group director Catherine Lewis.

It’s hard to tell how many local towns will be willing to host one of these businesses. Some, including communities that supported legalization, have been adopting not-in-our-town bans. Under the pending bill, doing nothing is the same thing as a ban.

PROCESSORS

A separate medical bill pending before LePage would allow medical marijuana processors that had closed down to reopen under a newly created state marijuana manufacturing license.

These labs, which extract certain parts of the cannabis plants for use in tinctures, oils and edibles, had been forced to close because of a set of state rules implemented in May that deemed third-party processing an illegal collective.

While a few of the labs had turned to processing hemp instead as a means to stay afloat, some said the rules were driving them out of state and into Massachusetts, which is scheduled to start legal adult-use sales next month. The state ban left some caregivers without a safe, reliable source of extracts and their patients without medicine that they don’t have to smoke.

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

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