Officials learn more about marijuana referendum
Municipal attorney Ted Kelleher of Drummond Woodsum appeared Jan. 25 at the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission’s workshop on the marijuana initiative for town officials, “Weeding Through Marijuana Legalization: What It Means For Our Towns.”
Kelleher outlined the current state of marijuana legalization in the U.S. Twenty-nine states have medical marijuana laws, and eight have legalized recreational use for adults. Fourteen additional states have decriminalized marijuana, making it the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket. All New England states have medical marijuana, and Maine and Massachusetts have legalized recreational use.
However, it is illegal federally. Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance, and growing, selling, marketing, and processing cannabis is still a federal felony. As a result, even in states where the drug is legal, there are potential legal hazards, and for those in the legal marijuana trade, it is often difficult to find banks willing to work with the industry, Kelleher said. That means that establishments have a great deal of marijuana and cash that can be the target of theft, even if the business itself is legal under Maine law.
Kelleher said the Obama administration relaxed enforcement of the federal drug laws, but that it is unclear what the next administration plans to do, because Pres. Donald Trump has signaled several attitudes toward marijuana during his campaign.
Kelleher said that from a political perspective, it may not be wise to be seen as a marijuana hardliner because public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue, with 60 percent of all Americans in favor of legalization; from an economic perspective, he said it is also not good politics to be opposed, because within just a few years, legal marijuana is expected to become a $25-40 billion dollar industry in the United States. In Maine, that figure is expected to be $210 million by 2020.
Kelleher said Maine’s new initiative will not impact the medical marijuana law reworked in 2010. The initiative for recreational use is in the rulemaking process, which was expected to continue through September or possibly through January 2018. Growing marijuana for personal use, and personal use in private homes and possession of 2.5 ounces while being transported, however, was still scheduled to be legal Jan. 30.
Kelleher said several issues will likely be examined. A flaw might have created a loophole for youth possession of marijuana and the state tax on marijuana, currently pegged at 10 percent, is very low compared to other states, Kelleher said. Other issues may include which department will issue the regulations. The Agriculture Department is slated to, but doesn’t want the job, and may delegate the authority to the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) which has a stronger history of making this type of regulation,, he said.
Once regulations have been written and issued, there will very likely be five license classes for marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing, retail sales establishments, and social clubs, where on-site consumption could legally take place, Kelleher saId. Towns will be able to decide whether they want to be “dry” towns and ban marijuana business establishments of any type, or can prohibit any class of license.
Towns will also be able to use zoning ordinances to restrict where establishments can go.
Once the rules are adopted, towns must begin to accept applications 30 days from when the regulations become active. Kelleher suggested that towns not accept applications before then.
He said towns should formulate criteria well in advance. “Some of the criteria might be financial, lack of criminal background (and) the applicant’s familiarity with the type of business they are applying to become,” he said.
Kelleher said given the likely long-term process, moratoria are probably unnecessary. “You would have to show that you were making progress toward a solution,” he said. “A moratorium isn’t a way to avoid dealing with the issue.”
A panel discussion after the talk included Sheriff Todd Brackett, Bob Faunce, Lincoln County planner, Joann Kaplan of Lincoln Health Pediatrics, Holly Stover of Boothbay Region Community Resources Council and Ricki Waltz, a nurse with the Lincoln County Substance Use Prevention Partnership.
About 70 people attended.