43 lawmakers tell state budget-writers: Don’t write off pot as fix for budget shortfall

Reuters photo by Jason Redmond.

Reuters photo by Jason Redmond.

Munjoy Hill representative and legalized-weed warrior Diane Russell, D-Portland, delivered a memo signed by 43 lawmakers to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee on Friday, urging appropriators to consider potential revenue from legalized marijuana as part of the fix for the $170 million shortfall in the current budget cycle.

“All options should be on the table,” Russell wrote in the memo, which was signed by 37 lawmakers, mostly Democrats. “In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use.”

The signatories include 35 Democrats from the House and 3 from the Senate, including Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash and House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. Four Republican House members also signed, including Minority Whip Alex Willette, R-Mapleton.

They also include three members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, including House Chairman Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, and Reps. Peter Stuckey, D-Portland, and Henry John Bear, the nonpartisan, nonvoting representative for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

Russell has proposed several measures to regulate and tax legalized recreational marijuana, including a bill last year to put the issue to statewide vote, which fell just four votes shy of passage in the House. Another bill proposed for this session was dismissed by the Legislative Council.

Last week, Colorado — which along with Washington legalized recreational pot last year — estimated that sales in the first 18 months would generate more than $180 million for state coffers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said 37 lawmakers had signed on to the memo. Forty-three legislators were signatories.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.