It looks like Maine will have to wait even longer for store-bought weed

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers again appear headed toward delaying the implementation of a sales, taxation and regulatory system for recreational marijuana, which was approved by Maine voters 14 months ago. Here’s your soundtrack.

There’s been little question that it’s too late for retail pot sales to happen by next month, as a moratorium bill enacted by the Legislature last year ordered. As we’ve reported before, it’s likely the Legislature will vote to delay that, and soon. Advocates of legal pot, along with some groups that oppose it, have agreed to a compromise, according to Maine Public. There’s still lots of debate and votes due before a decision but the delay could be until May.

The path forward is uncertain. Republican Gov. Paul LePage threw up a roadblock to an omnibus bill with a veto last year and hasn’t said publicly what iteration of the bill he’ll support, if any. After saying before the referendum that he would support the will of the voters on this issue, LePage has changed course and opposes the concept. LePage is likely to cite recent developments at the federal level — namely the Department of Justice issuing a memo last week rescinding a relaxed Obama-era stance on marijuana — as a reason to put the brakes on the law in Maine.

But Maine’s federal attorney said Tuesday he’s not interested in cracking down on pot. U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank told the BDN his office will focus on “hard drugs.” So, it’s unclear what effect U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ memo will have on the recreational market.

There seems to be budding agreement on a compromise bill, with opponents wanting strict controls on legal marijuana. According to Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, the compromise bill and his amendment have the support of referendum proponents including the the Marijuana Policy Project and Legalize Maine, opponents including Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities and potentially a majority of the Legislature’s marijuana committee. Among other things, it tasks oversight of the system to state liquor and lottery regulators, sets up a tax rate of 17.5 percent and says municipalities must vote to allow pot sales in their communities before they start.

Meanwhile in Ellsworth, pot in the hands of minors remains a problem. On Sunday, a 19-year-old Ellsworth High School student was summoned for obtaining pot edibles from a medical marijuana dispensary and selling them to at least three fellow students. The other students were also cited and Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier said this was a portent of what he expects after legal weed is more readily available. But it could also be an argument for stricter controls in the recreational market. Either way, here’s your soundtrack.


Today in A-town

The House and Senate are not in session today, but there is packed calendar of committee hearings. The Health and Human Services Committee has booked extra seating for its deliberations on a number of proposals to change Maine’s medical marijuana law. Click here to see who else is meeting and what they plan to discuss.


Reading list

  • Maine’s U.S. senators are supporting a bill that would reverse federal regulators’ repeal of “net neutrality.” Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Angus King announced on Tuesday that they support a bill from Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, that would overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s December decision to overturn Obama-era rules aiming to ensure equal access to the internet for consumers. But even if it passes in the Senate, it’s unlikely to pass in the more conservative House of Representatives.
  • Maine’s public campaign financing fund needs more money. With so many candidates for the legislatie and in the gubernatorial elections signalling that they’ll use the taxpayer-funded program this year, the Maine Ethics Commission estimates that it could need up to $11 million and there’s only projected to be about $9.4 million available. The commission has forwarded a bill to the Legislature asking for more money.
  • Matthew Dunlap is still advancing the battle over Trump’s election fraud commission. Maine’s Democratic secretary of state has been a thorn in the election fraud commission’s side since he was named to it, by calling out one of the co-chairmen for making an “absurd” voter fraud claim, refusing to provide Maine voter data the commission requested, suing the commission under public access laws and winning, and now filing a temporary restraining order to prevent the commission from turning its work over to the Department of Homeland security. Here’s his soundtrack.
  • There is a flap at the University of Maine system over employees speaking publicly about politics. A new policy that’s supposed to protect the universities’ nonprofit status by requiring most political activism to take place in coordination with the chancellor’s office or that employees make it clear they are expressing their own opinions. That’s caused a minor uproar.
  • The Maine Public Utilities Commission put the brakes on a University of Maine offshore wind project on Tuesday. The PUC gave UMaine permission in 2014 to negotiate a contract with Central Maine Power for its Aqua Ventus floating wind project but now commissions have balked at the proposed 35-cents-per kilowatt-hour electricity rate, which would be as much as five times the market price. The PUC argued that amounts to a subsidy.

Another way to fight cancer, brought to us by someone who won

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee held an emotional hearing Tuesday in which a number of people affected directly or indirectly by cancer hatched a plan to add a Maine license plate that would eventually route up to $200,000 annually to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. The committee approved the proposal unanimously and it now goes to the full Legislature.

The idea was hatched by Kim and Joe Westrick of Wiscasset, whose daughter Madison was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 2 and is now a healthy 12-year-old.

This part of the Daily Brief is usually reserved for the ridiculous or funny, but not today. We included it because good-news cancer stories are too rare. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.