Democratic and Republican lawmakers announce details of bill to establish a legal market for businesses to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older
Joining political forces from opposite ends of the spectrum, State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) and Rep. Aaron Libby (R-Waterboro) unveiled at a Thursday press conference the details of Russell’s new bill that would make Maine the third state in the nation to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed like alcohol.
“When it comes to keeping marijuana away from teens, keeping marijuana in an unregulated underground market is the worst possible policy,” Rep. Russell said. “Instead, marijuana should be sold by legitimate, taxpaying businesses in a tightly regulated market.”
Russell estimated that taxing and regulating cannabis sales could generate up to $13 million a year. She also supports allowing the transfer of marijuana from one adult to another without compensation.
Rep. Russell’s bill, the “Act to Tax and Regulate Marijuana,” would:
· Remove criminal penalties for private possession (2.5 ounces) and home-growing (six plants) of marijuana for adults 21 and older;
· Direct the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services to license marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities;
· Enact an excise tax of $50 per ounce on wholesale sales, of which 10 percent of the revenue will be used for implementation of the law, 10 percent will be used for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, 5 percent will be used for research on the effects of marijuana, and the remaining 75 percent will be directed to the state’s general fund;
· Regulate the cultivation, processing, and distribution of industrial hemp; and
· Allow localities to ban marijuana businesses.
It would remain illegal to use marijuana in public or drive under the influence of marijuana.If state lawmakers approve the bill this session, it will be referred to voters in the upcoming November election. If the measure gets carried over and approved during the next legislative session, it will be placed on the November 2014 ballot.
“Marijuana is objectively far less harmful than alcohol for the consumer and for the broader community,” said David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “It is irrational to punish adults who simply prefer to use the less harmful substance.
“Law enforcement resources should be focused on preventing and responding to serious crimes rather than enforcing the failed policy of marijuana prohibition,” Boyer said. “It’s time for a more sensible approach.”
Last November, voters in Colorado and Washington State approved measures making marijuana legal for adults 21 and older and directing state regulatory bodies to create regulations for businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults.
Bills to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol have also been introduced this year in the Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire state legislatures, and lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Vermont are expected to bring forward similar legislation.