2017-02-16 / Front Page

Marijuana and the law

Area senator named to committee that will shape rules
By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Biddeford resident and Maine state Sen. Susan Deschambault has been appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization in Augusta, and its first meeting was held Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The 17-member committee is composed of eight Republicans, eight Democrats and one Independent. An ad hoc committee created by the Senate, it is responsible for “developing a regulatory framework for the implementation of the voter-approved recreational marijuana law, most importantly the licensing, regulation and taxation of retail marijuana businesses,” according to Mario Moretto, communications director for Maine Senate Democrats.

The committee will also serve as the jurisdiction entity for the dozens of laws related to marijuana that were submitted for consideration this legislative year.

Deschambault said the Legislature wants progress to be made by October, but the current legislative session only goes until June, with the summer and fall off, so a motion was passed unanimously to extend the deadline by three months, bringing the deadline to February 2018 to have regulatory framework completed. The framework refers to the language surrounding the laws, licensing, regulation and taxation of marijuana.

“We’ll have the work done around the fall or around the holidays – done as in put together – and it will be voted by the full Legislature,” she said.

So far, legislative staff in Augusta has compiled a “couple-inches-thick” set of documents that includes language about the current law, proposed law, “dos and don’ts,” examples of other laws and a glossary, Deschambault said.

“The whole committee is not a staff of 25-year-olds,” she said, adding that terminology surrounding marijuana isn’t within the committee members’ lexicons, hence the glossary.

Deschambault appreciates the committee’s work.

“It isn’t northern Maine versus southern Maine,” she said. “You can’t stereotype areas. We all come from different views. The bottom line is no matter what you think about marijuana or how you voted for it, the bottom line is just to make it work. (We need to) think of everything that needs to be addressed so that it is a law . . . that’s enforceable and allowable and clearly understood. That’s going to be the big challenge.”

She also praised legislative staff.

“It’s a super, super staff in Augusta. They listen to every committee meeting,” she said. “If I say, ‘I wish I had a list of our goals,’ the next day they have it (printed for us). I can’t say enough about the legislative staff; they’re the ones that put it all together.”

“I think the committee . . . is up to the task, and I hope (committee members) can write some really good rules and regulations, and do it in a timely manner,” said Glenn Peterson, CEO of Canuvo, a medical marijuana dispensary in Biddeford.

Peterson said he supports adult recreational use in Maine, though he said he isn’t fond of the term “recreational.”

“‘Recreational’ gives a bad connotation. They don’t sell alcohol recreationally. People can enjoy one beer or 24 beers. So cannabis is cannabis. It’s based on intent.”

He said while Nevada, another state that legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, is able to write its regulatory framework within six months, “it’s going to take (Maine) a year” to do the same thing. However, he said he’s not concerned about the extension of the deadline or length of time it will take to write the framework.

Peterson did voice two concerns, however. He said one thing that should differentiate a recreational user and a medical cannabis user is that the medical user should be exempt from taxes at the point of sale.

The law for the sale of recreational marijuana has a sales tax of 10 percent, Peterson said.

“Some people would say that that is on the low end,” he added. “But the reason why it was set at 10 percent is you also have to combat the black market because you don’t want to make (marijuana) too expensive. Colorado started at 37 percent and they found it really didn’t do too much of a job of reducing black market sales, so they started to drop their sales tax amounts.”

Peterson said the other thing that a medical patient should have the ability to do is be exempt from components of driving under the influence within recreational legislation.

“If you use cannabis medically, you will have a very high level of (THC) units in your urine, and urine is not really the best way to test for impairment. Right now, (urine tests) are an inexact science. You cannot tell if someone is impaired through blood or urine tests. It should be demonstrable impairment.

“I often smell like cannabis because I work with it,” he continued. “It permeates your clothes. Just the smell is not something that triggers a response from the police. In Massachusetts, the odor from cannabis is not a reason to search your vehicle. It’s not probable cause. Medical patients should be exempt from (tests) because having it out of their system is unavoidable.”

Peterson said aside from these concerns, he looks forward to seeing Deschambault’s efforts on behalf of the committee.

“I’m very hopeful about Deschambault,” Peterson said. “She seems very open minded and I’m glad she’s on the committee. That’s the first thing you need – an open mind.”

Deschambault said the committee plans to spend time reviewing the Marijuana Legalization Act, the law passed by voters in 2016 that allows adults to use marijuana for non-medicinal purposes, and to compare and contrast it with the statutory and regulatory approaches taken by established recreational programs in states that have already legalized recreational marijuana, such as Washington and Colorado, as well as Massachusetts, which legalized marijuana for recreational purposes at the same time as Maine. She said mirroring the states’ laws could benefit Maine because, she said, “There’s no use in reinventing the wheel.”

“We’re going to look at health and safety, licensing and regulation, legal requirements and enforcement, and the legal structure to guide certain relationships such as employers and employees, and landlords and tenants,” she said.

She also said she’d like to make the laws surrounding marijuana similar to the laws of Massachusetts for the purpose of regional standardization.

“The average Joe who knows the Maine law and goes to a Celtics game shouldn’t have to worry about whether it’s legal or not,” she said.

Deschambault said she’s particularly curious to see how Colorado and other states determine whether someone is impaired from marijuana while driving. This proves to be complicated for law enforcement and employers, she said, because there’s no test for marijuana that mirrors the breathalyzer, a test that determines the level of intoxication through alcohol. However, even if an individual has THC – the active ingredient in marijuana that provides the high – in their body, it does not determine impairment at the time, since THC can stay in the body for a prolonged period of time with no impairing affect.

“(Officers who pull you over) can make a judgment – that’s why they have you walk toe to heel – but you know damn well that’s not going to hold up in court,” she said.

Deschambault said difficulties will exist for places like schools – such as with worker’s compensation and with human resources – and businesses, especially because of federal laws, which supersede local and state laws. The University of Maine System, for instance, will not allow the use of marijuana on campus because it would lose federal funds, Deschambault said.

“Every single little business will have to figure out what they’re going to do with an impaired employee,” she said.

When it comes to the medical marijuana industry, Peterson said he’s not concerned about the affect the recreational industry may have on it. If anything, he said, “It’ll make (marijuana) available to a larger swath of people.”

“The medical program will continue, and there will be a greater availability to medical patients throughout the state of Maine because there will be 50 locations instead of just eight,” he said.

Deschambault, who is now retired, represents Senate District 32, which encompasses Alfred, Arundel, Dayton, Kennebunkport, Lyman and Biddeford, and was nominated for the committee by Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau.

Deschambault worked for the Department of Corrections for 43 years, from 1972 to 2015,where she had several positions – primarily in supervision – and worked with juveniles and adults.

She also served on the Maine Criminal Justice Commission for 17 years, and for 12 years she worked as a police commissioner, working with prisoners.

“The prisoners would say, ‘You don’t mess with Ms. Deschambault,’” she said with a laugh. “I’ve been privileged to have dealt with people at their lowest, and it’s really something. I have everything in my head and heart.”

Deschambault also served two terms on the Biddeford City Council, was on the city’s policy committee as a resident, and served on the Biddeford Planning Board.

“I’m a pretty good policy person,” she said. “I want to make sure what we want to do is written clearly.”

When asked about whether she supported or opposed the measure to legalize marijuana recreationally, whether she ever saw marijuana adversely affect individuals she has worked with in her past professions, or whether she thinks the use of marijuana could get out of control now that it’s legal to use recreationally, Deschambault said she wishes “to maintain being impartial.”

“The task before us is monumental and requires an unbiased view,” she said. “Therefore (those) questions are irrelevant.”

“My forte will be, ‘What are the issues facing enforcement?’ I want to make the job of an officer clear enough so there’s room to say, ‘What do I do now?’

“That’s second nature to me,” she said.

The Maine Sheriffs’ Association will be involved in the framework’s process, she said, as well as state and local police departments. Owners of dispensaries, primary care givers of medical marijuana, physicians, substance abuse providers and advocacy groups will also be involved.

“We’ll be having hearings. We’ll be with the experts, people who have a vested interest in it,” Deschambault said. “The person who wants to open the dispensary; a doctor who has dealt with addiction; the banks who say they are bound by federal law and they can’t even make money or give a loan to build a businesses that is, according to the federal government, illegal. Those are the considerations.”

Deschambault said she’s eager to hear concerns from those who feel they need to share them.

“I truly want to hear what those issues are. I shouldn’t do anything than listen. You would not want me to go in with an agenda. I know what I know, and I’ll only speak up when it’s appropriate. I don’t have an agenda.”

“Sue Deschambault will be listening to people who will address their issues,” she said.

FMI

Contact Sen. Susan Deschambault to tell her your thoughts about a new law that permits the recreational use of marijuana. Call her at 284-4884 or email susan.deschambault@gmail.com.

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