Maine Wants to Develop ‘Craft Cannabis’ Market, Regulating Sales Like Alcohol

FILE – The Initiative to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine Campaign Manager David Boyer speaks on Monument Square to begin their petition drive in Portland, ME on June 4, 2015 | Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

[Canniseur: There are some good ideas in here about how to regulate a cannabis market and keep out the big companies. In the long term, Maine will also need the big companies to supply the developing market. The politicians who have been dragging their feet for almost two years on this and it’s about time Maine got its act together.]

Maine’s proposed rules about recreational marijuana call for the people who grow, manufacture and sell pot and pot products to be homegrown.

The state released its long-awaited draft rules about the marijuana program late Monday, and the proposal would limit licenses to residents of the state for the first two years. The draft stated Maine would only give licenses to grow and sell marijuana to people who have lived in the Pine Tree State and filed income tax returns there for four years, and that standard would apply until June 2021.

Residents voted in favor of legalizing marijuana in 2016, but crafting the rules has been a long and sometimes contentious process, and proponents of legalization said the emergence of a legal framework for sales and production of marijuana is a major step forward. The proposed rules will be subject to public comment and must survive legislative approval before they can go into effect.

It’s still hard to say exactly when marijuana could be available in stores, but the time is coming, said Democratic Rep. Teresa Pierce, a member of the state Marijuana Advisory Commission.

“I am most anxious to get these rules passed, because we need to get the adult market up and running because the diversion market is exploding,” Pierce said. “The longer we wait without passing rules, the greater the black market becomes.”

Maine already has a long-established medical marijuana program. It’s also currently legal to grow marijuana for personal recreational use in the state. Other states that have launched recreational marijuana markets have also prioritized state residents for licenses, said David Heidrich, director of engagement and community outreach for the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy.

Putting state residents first would allow the state to develop a “craft cannabis” market, said David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied for legalization.

“The draft rules allow for Maine’s existing businesses to operate and give the little guy a shot,” Boyer said. “The market will grow, just as it has with craft brewing.”

Legalization of recreational marijuana in Maine has faced numerous delays in the nearly 2½ years since voters approved the idea in a statewide vote. Former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, was an opponent of legalization, which made implementing laws difficult until his term ended last year. His successor, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, has been more supportive of implementing legalization.

More recently, the state ran into trouble approving a contract with a consultant to help write the rules. The contract ultimately went to Freedman & Koski of Colorado, while another firm, BOTEC Analysis of Los Angeles, was hired to analyze the proposed regulations.

A final version of the draft rules is expected within about two weeks. Scott Gagnon, a member of the state marijuana commission, said he would like to see the rules about advertising and packaging tightened.

Gagnon was director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which fought against the legalization drive. He said the draft rules for the most part ensured “the hard work we did advocating for public health was still there.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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