2017-10-05 / Editorial

State marijuana regulations to be considered

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

Mainers took the polls nearly a year ago to pass several consequential referendums. In doing so, they created new laws at the ballot box, every bit as legitimate as the ones we create in the Legislature.

One of those new laws was “An Act to Legalize Marijuana,” which allowed adults older than 21 years old to use marijuana recreationally. Just to recap, legalization won in York County with 54 percent of the vote, with a margin of roughly 9,500 votes. While statewide it was even closer, a win is a win, and elected officials must honor the wishes of the voters.

However, the law didn’t spell out each and every nittygritty detail of what a legal marijuana industry in Maine would look like. It spoke in broad strokes, and left the finer points to be developed by the Legislature and implemented by the state. Those details include important questions about taxation, retail sales and social clubs – businesses where customers could consume marijuana, the same way patrons consume alcohol at bars.

Until this point, that work has been undertaken by a special committee of legislators from both parties who have been meeting for months to develop the regulatory framework for this formerly illicit industry. Now, the committee has issued 70 pages of proposed regulations for recreational marijuana, which will likely be considered by the Senate during a special legislative session later this month.

The proposals include a 10 percent sales tax and 10 percent excise tax on marijuana, with 5 percent of the tax going to the community that hosts the retail store or grow operation. Towns that host marijuana businesses would also receive 1 percent of all statewide marijuana taxes. In the referendum, it spelled out a 10 percent sales tax with no mention of an additional excise tax, so I have some concerns about doubling the tax rate set by Maine voters.

In an effort to reduce corporate out-of-state interests, it would also give Maine residents a two-year head start in applying for recreational marijuana business licenses. Lastly, it would prohibit marijuana facilities from being located within 1,000 feet of a school.

As we consider these regulations, I’m dedicated to protecting local control. Towns and cities that choose to allow recreational marijuana to be cultivated, sold or consumed within their borders should be able to rely on fair and predictable rules. But those communities that would prefer not to allow recreational marijuana businesses must be able to make that decision for themselves, and have that decision respected. If Saco or Old Orchard Beach for instance chooses not to have this type of business in our community, it should be their right to do so and vice versa.

Lastly, I’m very concerned about reports that Gov. Paul LePage may not implement whatever regulations are approved by the Legislature. As the head of the executive branch of government, it is his responsibility to execute the laws. Yet it has been suggested that he may simply ignore the referendum and the faithful work by the Legislature to develop the rules necessary for implementation. This could throw wrenches in the gears for no good reason, and would be a slap in the face to the majority of Mainers who passed this law.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. What’s worse is if nothing is done, the referendum becomes the law of the land as is, which has major flaws in its language. It would mean loopholes for the big corporate marijuana industry, a lack of protections for local control and children, and a fragmented regulatory framework.

We must not delay in taking this on. When my colleagues pushed for a delay in implementing the law earlier this year, I was against it. There is talk of further delaying certain parts for years. We need to do our jobs and enact the will of the people in the most responsible way. This 70-page bill might not be it, might not be perfect, but it’s a starting place for discussion.

In the meantime, I want to hear from you. I hope you’ll get in touch to let me know what you think is a priority as the Legislature contemplates implementation of the marijuana legalization law. When I vote in the Senate, I’m representing not only my best judgment, but the wishes of people in our community. As a former member of the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee, this was an issue I have experience dealing with. I will be going over every detail with a fine-tooth comb. The legalization of recreational marijuana is a matter of tremendous consequence, and I need to hear from you to make the best decision possible for our community and state.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm and is the president/CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.

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