Marijuana is legal in Maine, but it’s not legal for everyone all of the time.

Under our law, some people (adults) can use it while other people (kids) can’t.

When stores open later this year, some people will be allowed to sell marijuana while other people won’t.

Some people will be licensed to manufacture products for sale while others would be violating the law if they did exactly the same thing without a license.

These distinctions are baked into the concept of the referendum that was passed by the voters in 2016, which said marijuana would be regulated “like alcohol.”

Proponents of the law promised that prohibiting sales to children, keeping intoxicated drivers off the road, testing to screen out dangerous additives and collecting taxes would all be part of the program.

So it’s strange to hear some of the same people complain now that rollout plans include some extra money for enforcement.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck has proposed adding a four-person unit to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency that would investigate both criminal and civil marijuana infractions.

It would be negligent to expect a legal market to be able to function alongside a black market without enforcing the new laws.

It’s been almost four years since voters said they wanted marijuana to be regulated like alcohol, and it’s frustrating how complicated it is to carry out such a simple idea.

Alcohol is a legal product, available in one form or another in almost every gas station and convenience store across the state. But there are criminal laws and civil regulations that set the boundaries between legal and illegal alcohol use and distribution, and violators are cited or prosecuted on a daily basis.

Marijuana is different from alcohol in many ways, but they share some similarities from a regulatory perspective.

Just like the holder of a liquor license, the owner of a marijuana shop should be on notice that they could lose their right to do business if they serve minors. And licensed marijuana sellers should not have to compete with black marketeers who don’t have to meet quality control standards or pay taxes.

There are clearly places where the regulations under consideration in Augusta look like overreach. Proposed legislation that would make illegal an extraction process used by small-scale medical marijuana caregivers would provide an unfair advantage to well-financed industrial competitors who use more expensive equipment. Since there is little evidence that small operations that use alcohol to extract marijuana oils are any threat to public safety, the process doesn’t need special prohibition.

Preventing marijuana sales to youths, however, does require oversight. This is not “recriminalizing marijuana” – as some advocates charge – but merely keeping the promise made to Maine people when the question went before the voters.

If there are rules, there has to be enforcement. The state is right to put money aside now to make sure it happens.

 


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