Yes, Maine’s latest political showdown may let kids have pot

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage and legislative leaders — particularly Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport — are staring each other down over a bill that seeks to correct problems in the legalization of recreational marijuana, which takes effect on Monday.

As you might have read Thursday evening or today in the BDN, the Legislature voted unanimously to enact the bill on Thursday and send it to LePage’s desk, but there it sits. LePage told lawmakers and reporters Thursday that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll sign or veto the bill because lawmakers rejected an amendment he wanted that dealt with which state agency will oversee retail marijuana sales — which aren’t going to start until February 2018 at the earliest — and provided $1.6 million to set up the system. Under the Maine Constitution, LePage has 10 days to act or the bill goes into law on its own.

Lawmakers argue that the issues in the failed amendment aren’t crucial to the emergency legislation they enacted Thursday that will, among other things, ensure that the letter of the law says marijuana possession by minors is illegal. They also complain that the amendment would have appropriated money and enacted policy without a public hearing process.

LePage countered by saying he doesn’t trust the Legislature to follow through on their promises, even though Gideon introduced a bill Thursday that does essentially exactly what LePage’s amendment wanted. In an attempt to show good faith, the House convened late Thursday to reference Gideon’s bill into the public hearing process, but LePage’s staff trolled her on Twitter Thursday night regardless with a tweet that said “@saragideon The clock is ticking. #mepolitics.”

Once again in Augusta, politics has gotten in the way of enacting policy that everyone agrees on and both sides are blaming the process.

LePage lamented that the bill came to his desk just four days before the Jan. 30 pot legalization threshold. Some lawmakers complained that LePage was the one calling for changes at the 11th hour with his amendment. Both sides noted that bigger issues than these have been decided moments before crucial deadlines, including multibillion-dollar budget bills that avoided state government shutdowns.

Which side will budge? It seems like it would have to be LePage if the fixes are to go into effect before pot becomes legal. The Legislature is not scheduled to return to Augusta until Tuesday and calling 186 lawmakers from all over Maine to Augusta over the weekend to either enact the amendment or override a veto is impractical and would be expensive, said Gideon.

Why does it matter? While it’s unlikely that the average elementary school student will be seen toting a bag of weed around come Monday, the loophole in the law could embolden some high school and college students to test the limits.

More likely, Thursday’s clash was orchestrated to call the public’s attention to the issue, which will be at the forefront of legislative debate for the next several months. That debate will center on the pot bill itself, as well as the citizen initiative process, which created this problem in the first place with a poorly written law.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Thursday was just another “normal” day in Augusta. The BDN will be keeping an eye on developments over the weekend and next week, so stay tuned. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • U.S. Sen. Angus King wants President Donald Trump to read a 2014 report on torture: The Maine independent joined six Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee to send a letter to Trump urging him to read the classified version of the committee’s report, which found that the CIA tortured suspected terrorists as part of an officially sanctioned and brutal program that produced few results. It comes as Trump mulls whether to reinstate “black site” overseas prisons, which Amnesty International USA told Reuters would be “extremely disturbing and outrageous attempt to open the door again to systematic torture and secret detention.”
  • Progressive groups will rally against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Sunday in Portland: The Maine People’s Alliance is one of the groups leading the rally at Portland City Hall. It’s meant to push her to vote against Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Collins, a Republican, also angered progressives with her vote to begin the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but she has said she wouldn’t support repealing the law without a replacement and is leading her own replacement push now.
  • And the Maine Republican Party will pick a new chair on Saturday in Augusta: There were more details in yesterday’s Daily Brief, but running to replace outgoing Chairman Rick Bennett are Vice Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas, a Saco dentist, and Matt Leonard of Auburn, the former executive director of his region’s chamber of commerce. Outgoing Aroostook County Republican Chairman Blake Winslow of Presque Isle and Ryan Lorrain of Waterville, an aide to Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives, are running for vice chair.
  • Things are slow in Augusta today: A mostly perfunctory meeting of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee is the only thing on the legislative calendar. — Michael Shepherd

Correction: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong day for the Republican state committee meeting. It is Saturday.

Reading list

Farewell to a friend and BDN legend

The Bangor Daily News bids a bittersweet but fond adieu today to Judy Long, a crucial cog in the newspaper’s internal machinery. Since she arrived as a fresh Colby College graduate in 2000, Judy has been on a steady upward trajectory through several editor posts and until the close of business today, she oversees the company’s print operations. Ensuring that a newspaper hits the street every day is not a job for the timid and no one has ever said “timid” in reference to Judy.

I could list the accolades here but “she rocks” pretty much covers it. After today, she moves on to a new professional adventure.

One day several months ago, Judy read the Daily Brief, listened to the soundtrack and sent me a note: “You probably didn’t know it, but that’s my jam.”

Judy’s Jam, as it will from this day forward be known as by the Daily Brief, turns out to be apropos. And when Mike Reno screams “AND FLYYYYYYYY MY WAAAY!” it’s one of the best moments in rock vocal history, am I right?

Judy, here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.