On Thursday, November 21st, the Maine Legislative Council will be voting on whether or not to allow the introduction of LR 2329, a measure sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) which would legalize the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana by individuals over the age of 21 in addition to establishing retail outlets to sell marijuana and marijuana products.
It is extremely important that we cross this first hurdle at the Legislative Council tomorrow. We have a very real chance of passing this legislation if it is introduced. This is why we are asking all Maine residents to please take a minute of your time to contact the members of the council and urge them to support the introduction of this legislation.
Final language will be released soon, but you can see an overview of the legislation below. NORML believes this legislation presents a smart approach on marijuana for the state of Maine. It would allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana, cultivate up to 6 plants, and purchase marijuana from established retail outlets. It also has key provisions in place that ensure individuals with several years residency in Maine and experience as a current medical marijuana dispensaries or caregiver are given priority on business licenses, explicitly leaves the current medical marijuana law in place for patients, and directs tax revenue to help low income patients be able to afford their medicine.
LR 2329: An Act To Align Maine’s Marijuana Laws with the Guidelines
Governing Taxation and Regulation Issued by the Federal Government
LR2329, “An Act to Align Maine’s Marijuana Laws With the Guidelines Governing Taxation and Regulation Issued by the Federal Government” is presented in light of the remarkable shifts in culture, events and momentum clearly moving Maine toward a model that regulates and taxes marijuana in a similar manner to the way we do alcohol. The Portland voter initiative answered the question for many, “Is Maine ready?”
Now, it’s time for a responsible, pragmatic policy. In short – a Maine approach. Here are some key elements of the bill, as well as the context or rationale where appropriate:
-The policy is focused on the responsible adult market and does not rewrite, recreate or in any way restrict the medical marijuana laws already on the books. Patients will continue to be able to procure medicinal marijuana from their current registered caregiver or registered dispensary provider without disruption. Further, the taxation structure currently in place for patients will remain in place going forward. The bill creates an entirely new chapter of law.
-The bill does allocate 5% of the excise tax revenue to a new fund to help low-income medical marijuana patients afford their medication.
-Adults over the age of 21 are allowed to possess, purchase, and consume cannabis.
-The department will be set up under what is currently BABLO – Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations. This department already oversees tightly regulated products and is most capable of overseeing the start-up of a similar set of rules for running a vice business.
-There are four types of licenses: Retail, Cultivation, Products and Testing. The cultivation licenses are divided up into tiers, allowing people to start small and scale up as appropriate to a maximum cultivation facility of 10,000 square feet – or, roughly a quarter of an acre. This addresses concerns about putting “the little guy” out of business.
-To obtain a license under the bill, applicants must have been a resident of Maine for a minimum of two years. This ensures that Maine people benefit from the industry directly.
-There will be a 10% sales and 15% excise tax with a minimum excise tax of $1.50 per gram.
-The revenue allocations include, but are not limited to: public school construction, addiction treatment services, youth marijuana prevention, Drugs for the Elderly, research, underage sales prevention, increased number of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), Fund for a Healthy Maine, liquor and marijuana inspectors, etc.
-One of the key requirements from the DOJ was to avoid diversion, either to minors or to out-of-state locations where cannabis remains illegal. Further, they seek to stop rewarding cartels and drug dealers. The best way to meet both of these concerns is to ensure supply meets demand. If there is too much supply, the product will be diverted. If there is too much demand, dealers will step in. By extrapolating market data, we have estimated the production capacity should be a total of about 400,000 square feet to meet demand. We have authorized the bureau to allocate licenses at their discretion based on the number of applicants.
-Colorado is experiencing difficulties in setting up its regulatory structure because they did not set aside revenue for the process, and their licensing fees have not met the revenue needs. LR2329 gives discretion to the bureau to determine the cost for setting up the program, and adjusting application and licensing fees to ensure they have adequate resources to do so responsibly.
-Youth prevention is a big issue for the Coalition, but also for addiction counselors and law enforcement. The bill includes restrictions on advertising, strict guidelines against furnishing to minors, security requirements for farmers, and the creation of a funded Youth Marijuana Prevention advisory council. The Council’s primary objective will be to reduce youth consumption of marijuana throughout Maine.
-The bill authorizes “home grow,” a popular expectation for individuals – and a check against industrial marijuana. Municipalities may sell twist tie tax stamps to adult consumers who must attach the tie to the plant demonstrating they have the right to grow it. This does a few things. It allows individuals 21+ to do so while providing an easy way for law enforcement to know whether the plant in question is legal. Further, it ensures revenue for the state. The home cultivation license would prohibit the licensee to sell their product. We also outlined specific notifications that must be presented to the licensee, ensuring they are aware of their obligations and responsibilities under the law.
-At every opportunity, we have worked to protect the civil liberties of individuals who naturally fear reprisal from the federal government should policies change.
-There is no referendum in this bill.
Three localities in Michigan (Ferndale, Jackson, and Lansing) all voted in support of marijuana legalization today by huge margins. The three areas had similar proposals to remove criminal and civil penalties for personal possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana.
Ferndale won by the largest margin with 72% of voters approving the measure. Jackson approved their ordinance with 61% support and only 39% opposed and Lansing passed theirs with 63% support. (Note: Official final vote tallies will be updated when they come in.)
“These votes in Michigan, along with the resounding vote in Portland, Maine illustrate that not only are the American people considering moving towards legalization of marijuana, they overwhelmingly are demanding it,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Politicians must open their eyes to the political reality that legalization has arrived and is supported by a massive majority of voters. If they continue to drag their feet on the issue, we will take it to the people wherever possible, and we will win.”
Supporters of Portland’s Question 1 claimed victory tonight, celebrating their work to make Portland the first city on the East Coast to legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for adults over 21. Question 1 was approved by about 70% of the vote, with only around 30% voting in opposition.
“Volunteers have been working tirelessly to make Portland the first city on the East Coast to legalize marijuana for adults, and tonight we celebrate,” said Rep. Diane Russell. “This is truly a victory for science, for common sense and for liberty.”
Earlier this year, Russell’s bill, “An Act to Tax and Regulate Marijuana” earned itself 35 co-sponsors, but fell just four votes short in the Maine House of Representatives. Since that time, the Department of Justice has released guidelines allowing states to move forward with regulating marijuana in a similar manner to alcohol. The populist Portland vote is seen as a litmus test of momentum for replacing prohibition with alcohol-style regulation.
“We already successfully regulate marijuana for medical use and, with tonight’s vote, it’s now clear Mainers are ready to move forward responsibly regulating all adult marijuana sales. We are calling on city officials to respect the will of the voters, and state leaders to get ahead of this issue with a Maine approach to taxing and regulating this commodity, much like we do alcohol,” said Russell. “It’s time to stop rewarding drug cartels and start rewarding responsible business owners, while funding important state priorities with new tax revenue.”
“We hope this resounding vote in Portland sends a loud and clear message, not just to lawmakers in Augusta, but lawmakers nationwide,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “We the people are ready for marijuana legalization and it is well past time for legislators to listen to their constituents and push for an end to the failed policy of prohibition.”
NORML and Representative Russell are still working to have statewide marijuana legalization statewide in 2014.
As we mentioned here previously, NORML has worked with Representative Diane Russell in Maine to draft and prepare for introduction a measure that would have legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana in the state. The proposed legislation would have legalized the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and the cultivation of up to 6 plants by individuals over the age of 21. It would have established marijuana retail outlets and cultivation sites across the state to create an aboveboard regulated market. To ensure that both those with experience and those with strong ties to the state of Maine were given priority, applicants who are already operating in Maine’s medical program and applicants with 2 or more years residency in the state were to receive the right of first refusal for retail licenses.
To be introduced, the measure had to be approved by Maine’s Legislative Council and was on track to do so until today. At the last minute, monied corporate interests representing established medical marijuana dispensaries came in and managed to flip one of the votes necessary to approve the bill for introduction. Their complaints were vague and they made the claim they were not invited to the table, despite the legislation being drafted to provide them with priority status when it came to applying for retail licenses. In truth, they walked away from the very table they said they were not invited to. In addition to providing deference to both medical dispensaries, registered caregivers, and applicants with real ties to the state, 5% of the taxes raised from the sales of retail marijuana would have gone to help low income patients who are suffering in Maine by subsidizing the cost of their medical cannabis.
“Today, corporate and profit-driven interests shunned Maine’s economic future and shut down the prospects of a new bill to regulate marijuana,” stated Representative Diane Russell, “For the record, 5% of tax revenue from the new bill would have gone to ensuring low income Mainers could afford their medical marijuana. Profits seem to be more important than patients – and that’s just wrong.”
With pressure from those with vested interest in maintaining the status quo, this proposed legislation ended up falling one vote short of what was required for its introduction, although we had enough votes.
Maine Residents: Please, take a moment of your day to contact Maine’s Legislative Council using our form linked below and let them know you disagree with their decision. The time is overdue for Maine to move towards a regulated system that puts the interests of Mainers before the interest of profits.
Very Disappointing: Please Reconsider LR 2329
I am writing to express my disappointment with the Maine Legislative Council for failing to approve Representative Diane Russell’s proposed legislation that would have legalized adult possession and limited cultivation of marijuana, while regulating its retail sale similar to how our state currently regulates alcohol.
For those who voted in support of Rep. Russell’s bill, I sincerely thank you. For those who voted in opposition to it, I write to respectfully request you reconsider your vote. I’ve outlined my reasons below and hope you will give serious consideration to the growing number of Mainers who want a Maine approach to marijuana policy.
Next Tuesday, Portland will be voting on a citizen referendum to legalize cannabis for adults. If this ordinance passes, there will be no vehicle to channel the growing momentum for legalization toward a constructive end. When 58% of Americans support replacing prohibition with regulation, the issue is no longer coming – it’s here. Regardless of the vote next week, we should be actively working to get ahead of this issue in a responsible, open manner.
Mainers are quickly realizing that prohibition has failed to protect kids. In fact, more than 80 percent of high school seniors attest to the federal government that they have easy access to marijuana – that statistic has remained constant for nearly four decades.
Further, Mainers are twice as likely to get arrested for possession if they are African American; York county residents are five times as likely. In 2010 alone, Maine arrested over 2,800 individuals for simple marijuana possession. The cost of enforcing these laws comes with an annual bill in excess of 8.8 million dollars a year, while doing nothing to create safer communities or dissuade use. Further, this system has only incentivized drug dealers and cartels who are currently profiting off prohibition.
This legislation was written with safe guards in place to give priority to in state residents and current medical marijuana dispensary operators when it comes to the distribution of retail licenses. Additionally, it would have taken the marijuana trade out of the hands of black market criminal elements and put it under the control of legitimate regulated business owners – from Maine – while raising substantial tax revenue for the state. The bill funded the hiring of new Drug Recognition Experts to help enhance highway safety, Drugs for the Elderly, addiction treatment, medical marijuana for low income people, and the launch of a marijuana youth prevention task force.
In short, this was a Maine approach to responsibly addressing a growing cultural shift. I ask you to reconsider this vote, and allow a new bill to move forward that truly reflects the direction Mainers want to go on this issue.
“There’s an air of cognitive dissonance about it, that a woman, especially a nurturing, professional woman, could both smoke pot and not be Jim Breuer in Half Baked was, to many, a revelation.” Emily Dufton, The Atlantic (10/28/13)
Emily Dufton does an excellent job identifying the cultural challenges and social setbacks that are experienced by female cannabis consumers on a regular basis. The issue of women and weed has become a hot topic recently, and being on the forefront of this push for female engagement has been nothing short of fascinating. The emergence of independent, mainstream professional women becoming more outspoken about their cannabis use has prominently challenged traditional stereotypes, and started the long-overdue process of reframing gender norms. As marijuana goes mainstream, its cultural connotations will continue to evolve. In return, more women will feel comfortable coming out of the cannabis closet.
A little over 4 years ago, I wrote an aptly named blog; Because Women are NORML Too, in response to the overwhelming interest to Marie Claire’s famous Stiletto Stoners article. In that post, I noted, “The normalization of recreational cannabis consumption is not just happening with men, which is what most people think of when they think of pot smokers. Women, who are not necessarily left out of the movement, are rarely recognized as a major demographic that is essential for the reform effort to push forward in a truly legitimate fashion.” It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.
Since then, there has been a major effort on behalf of NORML and the movement to identify and close the gender gap. Reformers are acutely aware that in order to succeed in ending blanket prohibition, female outreach has to be a key component to their advocacy work. Women, a significant demographic were largely responsible for bringing down California’s Proposition 19, but were also a key factor in the passage of Washington and Colorado’s legalization initiatives in 2012. In fact, campaigners in Colorado and Washington spent a significant amount of time and resources cultivating the female vote. Though a gender gap still exists nationwide, it is shrinking, fast.
While great strides have been made culturally and politically, there still remains a great deal of curiosity and intrigue surrounding female cannabis consumers. Many want to know, who are these women who smoke pot? Why do we smoke pot? Is it because we are sick or in pain, need a crutch or because we simply want to relax with a substance that has less side effects than alcohol? Why don’t more of us speak out about it? Why aren’t there more women leading the fight? Can a responsible mom still smoke pot? It’s truly amazing how a single chromosome can alter the entire construct and perception of a certain behavior. One can write volumes on each of these questions, but the interest clearly comes from the disconnect of deeply rooted gender norms regarding women, intoxication, and our various roles in society. Many of these abstract components have been mulled over time and again by different authors and publications. But if we look at our current policies, some of these questions are answered in very real terms.
For example, a mother who chooses to unwind with a joint after her child has gone to bed is no more a danger to her child than one who chooses a glass of wine. Yet, our laws say otherwise. A mother who smokes pot is in constant danger of losing her children because child protective services maintain the false presumption that this behavior (or the mere presence of pot) poses a threat to the child’s safety. This is just one example of how the culmination traditional gender norms and our current marijuana policies play a real and tragic role in our society. The proliferation of government agencies across the country removing children from safe, loving homes for the mere fact that a parent is a cannabis consumer, even in states with a legal medical marijuana program, or where marijuana possession is no longer a criminal offense is not just an abstract discussion, but a tangible, legal issue that requires immediate attention and an expedited solution. Support for marijuana legalization is higher than ever before, and as the political winds change, so too will the scope of the marijuana culture. Women, and our relationship with marijuana will have political and social implications for years to come, and it is therefore up to us to make sure we take a leading role in defining what those outcomes will be.