In my last installment, we discussed how being an ethical smoker includes participating in the legislative process as Maine’s recreational pot regulations take shape.
Folks, the time is nigh.
With lawmakers currently hammering out what the state’s commercial pot program will look like upon implementation next year, it’s now critical for those of us interested in eventually buying or selling recreational marijuana to pay close attention — and weigh in, before the full legislature takes up a comprehensive regulatory bill this fall.
The state’s special Committee on Marijuana Legalization has been meeting twice weekly, tackling everything from the establishment of testing facilities to the extent of local control over weed sales. The committee recently earned props from the Boston Globe for the transparency of its proceedings, at least as compared with that of Massachusetts, which has been developing its pot regulations largely behind closed doors. (The public can listen to the Maine committee’s meetings live via http://legislature.maine.gov/.)
Just last week, in one of its biggest moves yet, the committee proposed taxing recreational weed sales at 20 percent, through a 10 percent excise tax and 10 percent sales tax. Five percent of those taxes would be funneled back to host communities, with the remainder going to the state.
That 20 percent number, while double what voters approved at the ballot box in November, is “much more commensurate with taxing across the United States,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce, a Falmouth Democrat who co-chairs the committee.
Indeed, a 20 percent tax would put Maine’s recreational marijuana tax rate below the one being considered in nearby Massachusetts — 25 percent — as well as the rates in Washington state (37 percent), Colorado (29 percent), Alaska (25 percent), and Oregon (25 percent), according to the Washington, DC-based Tax Foundation. Nevada, which just started selling recreational weed last month after voters approved it in 2016, is levying taxes of about 32 percent, leading the Tax Foundation to warn that it may face trouble “stamping out the black market.”
Pierce said taxes of 20 percent would account for the costs of Maine’s regulatory system while still being low enough to compete against illegal sales.
But some say the proposal, which far exceeds the 10 percent tax outlined in the 2016 referendum, is still “way too high.”
“It's gonna shoot the regulated and taxed market in the knees before asking it to run a race against the illicit market,” said Paul McCarrier, of Legalize Maine. He noted that regulated recreational pot in Maine will be competing against three markets: illicit cannabis that’s shipped here from out of state, illicit cannabis obtained through the “gray market” — local weed that’s grown legally but sold illegally — and medical marijuana, currently taxed at 5.5 percent. Mainers being a thrifty bunch, McCarrier said, they’re less apt to shell out the roughly $40 extra per ounce in taxes.
However, countered Democratic Portland Rep. Erik Jorgensen, a committee member: “If we want to cover our regulatory responsibilities while also providing enough additional revenue to do other things, we needed to go higher than what was originally included in the referendum.”
“It's always easier to start higher and come down if necessary than to start lower and go up,” Jorgensen said.
The committee plans to finalize the tax provision and number of others before voting on a full proposal later this summer. There will be a public hearing, likely in September, at which engaged citizens can speak for or against aspects of that law. The committee will make changes accordingly, and the full legislature is expected to convene a special session in October to vote on what will likely be a 30-50 page bill, according to Pierce.
If cost isn’t enough to sway you toward civic engagement, Jorgensen put the committee’s work in a national context, noting that while “we are appropriately not trying to predict what the federal government is going to do in the sphere of legalized cannabis, it seems logical that we will be in a stronger position if we have a robust regulatory structure in place.”
“This administration is, as everyone knows, a rolling crisis in all areas,” Jorgensen said, “and I think they have many bigger fish to fry than trying to nullify legalization laws that cover millions of Americans. That said, we want to make sure that our laws are clear, fair, and defensible.”
With Attorney General Jeff Sessions having adopted a Reefer Madness weed stance, we can’t argue with that.