The legalization of marijuana use for adults has achieved critical mass. Some 33 states have now approved marijuana for medical purposes, and another 10 have legalized recreational use; in Maine, both are legal.

There have been half-hearted efforts to stem the tide. In 2017, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to strictly enforce federal laws against marijuana possession, but the prosecutors essentially ignored him.

It’s not a great stretch to envision that, within a few years, marijuana will be removed from the Food and Drug Administration’s Schedule 1, covering drugs “with no accepted medical use” – where it never belonged. Voters have responded to the widespread testimony by patients seeking pain relief, saying that marijuana relieves their symptoms and represents a safer alternative than opioids.

Meanwhile, states and municipalities are trying to figure out how to implement legalization, and it was predictable that the process wouldn’t be smooth, given the patchwork of laws enacted in Maine by referendum, then amended by the Legislature.

In Maine, Hallowell has become a pioneer in granting retail licenses for recreational sales, although “guinea pig” might be a more accurate term.

Under Maine’s 2009 medical marijuana citizen initiative, the drug was available through caregivers and dispensaries for approved patients. That changed with the approval of a 2016 legalization referendum, which was, however, so poorly drafted that it took lawmakers nearly two years to sort out – aggravated by obstruction from the former governor, who vetoed the results twice before finally being overridden.

Under the enacted law, medical marijuana caregivers are allowed to open retail shops for patients; two opened in Hallowell. Many towns and cities are still in the moratorium phase on recreational pot, but Hallowell decided to forge ahead and allow two such establishments downtown. They were to be licensed by the city for both recreational and medical marijuana, though they’d have to wait for state licenses on the recreational side.

Among the three applicants for the two licenses were two Hallowell business owners, one of whom – Derek Wilson – was chosen in last month’s lottery. But Wilson didn’t attend a Jan. 7 City Council licensing hearing and thus was unable to demonstrate that he was of “good moral character” – a requirement under the licensing law – after councilors became aware of a 25-year-old disorderly conduct conviction.

Because Wilson was not issued a license to sell recreational marijuana, under the council’s new rules, he also lost his ability to operate his medical marijuana shop. The other applicant, with no retail presence on Water Street, was granted a license despite six previous convictions, including theft and trafficking of a scheduled drug, which she evidently explained to councilors’ satisfaction.

The council then granted a license to the applicant left out by the December lottery, filling the quota of two.

Much of the confusion could have been avoided had the LePage administration written the state medical and recreational marijuana sales rules. Hallowell was probably unwise to proceed without those rules, now presumably forthcoming from the Mills administration.

But the distinction between medical and recreational use that Maine’s new law tries to preserve may ultimately be untenable.

Since New England’s Puritans helped found the country, it’s been hard for many Americans to accept that the same substance may be used both for therapeutic reasons and because, well, it’s pleasurable. In the 19th century, many drugs banned today were ingredients in “patent medicines” used, without fuss, by quite respectable members of society.

We’ve had a century of dubious legal decisions concerning a substance like marijuana, that – whatever its downsides – will never kill millions of Americans from cancer and heart disease, like cigarettes, or shatter countless lives the way alcohol does.

It will take time, and a further shifting of social attitudes, before we get to the point where a marijuana shop in Hallowell excites no more comment than a wine store. But it would be a good place to be.

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