Marijuana legalization is now the law of the land in Maine, barring any 11th hour surprises, and supporters say they now want to turn their attention to what could be a lengthy rulemaking process
"It will probably be a year before anything happens, We just have a commitment to making this a safe and a great system," said Patricia Rosi, CEO with Wellness Connection of Maine, the state's largest operator of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Wellness Connection operates four dispensaries, in Portland, Brewer, Gardiner and Bath (a facility in Thomaston was closed to be replaced by the one in Bath).
"We will involve our community every step of the way," Rosi said, vowing to keep patients informed.
By 378,288 to 375,668, Maine voters on Nov. 8 passed Question 1, marijuana legalization (on the raft of state referendum questions, voters in Portland gave their across-the-board support: Question 1, marijuana legalization, passed in the city 65 percent to 35 percent).
"We're very happy that the referendum passed because it will expand access to others," Rosi said.
With the official results from the overseas ballots announced, the Yes on 1 campaign increased their margin of votes to over 4,600, noted David Boyer, campaign manager for Yes on 1. The Secretary of State's office reported that 2,772 ballots were cast for marijuana legalization, and 990 against by those voting via overseas/military absentee ballots (http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/UOCAVAReferendumResults.pdf).
"We hope that the No on 1 campaign will concede and work with us to successfully implement Question 1 over the coming months,” Boyer noted in a written statement.
But WGME Channel 13 reported that opponents to legalization planned to seek a recount.
"It demands an accurate count," Newell Auger with No on 1 said, according to WGME's report. "The idea that we would plunge head first into a brand new significant change in policy is really foolhardy when you think about how narrow that margin is."
No on 1 needed to submit 100 signatures by Wednesday at 5 p.m., WGME reported. "But the Secretary of State's Office said its very unlikely many votes would change," WGME reported. (A request for comment from Scott Gagnon, director of the Maine affiliate of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group active in the campaign, went unanswered.)
In an interview last week, Boyer said, "We think the voters of Maine have decided this. … The recount is going to take taxpayer dollars to do, and it’s simply delaying the inevitable. We won by thousands of votes by this point."
Boyer argued that in 2010, a recount regarding a referendum about Oxford Casino actually added votes for the casino measure.
The implementation phase is next, Boyer said.
"The state is going to come up with some rules and regulations, there will be time for public input," and supporters will "hold the governor to his promise that he would not impede legalization."
"It will probably take about a year," Boyer said. "People are interested, yes, I’ve gotten some calls, and I’ve said, ‘Read the bill first and then talk to me.’ We don’t think this should take more than a year to get up and running," Boyer said. "Colorado did it and they were one of the first ones."
A Portland City Council vote on a proposed moratorium is likely to come up next week, which would provide "breathing room," Boyer said. But the benefits should convince municipalities to join in; many communities will see increased commerce and revenue from marijuana social clubs and retail marijuana stores, he said.
"We think it will be a benefit to towns because marijuana will be sold by licensed, regulated businesses," Boyer said. In Colorado, "the state is raking in $135 million in revenue each year, and there’s a demand for residential and commercial space in cities like Denver and Fort Collins, there are tens of thousands of new jobs, so it’s definitely working out over there." (In May, the Denver Post reported, "Marijuana sales this year are expected to reach $1 billion in Colorado.")
Rosi said she can understand communities voting on temporary bans, in the form of a moratorium. An "absence of clarity about what is changing" prompts much of the effort to slow down, she said.
But ulemaking will occupy legislators in the upcoming session.
"There's still an entire legislative session to get through. It's going to take some time to implement it, and the devil is in the details," Rosi said.
The measure’s passage allows adults 21 and over to possess, grow and use marijuana as soon as the law takes effect. The new law will officially take effect 30 days after the final election results are declared, which can take up to 10 days, barring a recount upset. However, Maine will not see marijuana retail businesses or social clubs (where adults can legally purchase and use marijuana) for likely close to a year, Boyer said.
According to the referendum language, "the state licensing authority is the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry," which is authorized to "grant or refuse licenses for the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, sale and testing of retail marijuana and retail marijuana products. … The state licensing authority shall begin accepting and processing applications by 30 days after the adoption of rules. …"
"The state licensing authority shall adopt rules for the proper regulation and control of the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, sale and testing of retail marijuana and retail marijuana products and for the enforcement of this chapter, not later than 9 months after the effective date of this Act. … First priority for licensure must be given to registered caregivers who have been continuously registered with the Department of Health and Human Services pursuant to the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act or who have experience serving as a principal officer or board member of a nonprofit medical dispensary registered with the Department of Health and Human Services pursuant to the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act."
"The state licensing authority may not limit the total number of retail marijuana stores in this State. A municipality may regulate the number of retail marijuana stores and the location and operation of retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs and may prohibit the operation of retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs within its jurisdiction." To read the full bill, visit http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/upcoming/index.html.
Maine has been on the forefront of pot policy. In 2009, 59 percent of Maine voters supported an initiative to create medical marijuana dispensaries. On Nov. 8, Maine joined several states, including Massachusetts, California and Nevada, in voting to legalize recreational use of marijuana. The federal government hasn't officially legalized the drug. In 2013, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memo to all U.S. Attorneys outlining enforcement priorities regarding marijuana, stipulating that "enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity."