Bill To Legalize Marijuana Gets Long Awaited Public Hearing
Will Maine become the third state, joining Colorado and Washington, in legalizing marijuana for recreational use? The proposal was presented to lawmakers in Augusta Friday.Portland Democrat Diane Russell presented her bill to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “It is essential in my opinion that we get ahead of an issue that’s coming,” Russell told reporters at a press conference before the hearing.Russell’s bill would:* Make the use and possession of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age or older.* Make it legal to possess 2 1/2 ounces and six marijuana plants in Maine.* Prohibit public smoking of marijuana* Personal cultivation would have to occur in an indoor or outdoor enclosed locked space* Allows transfer from one adult to another adult without compensationThe bill would establish four types of licenses:* Cultivator* Marijuana producr producers* Retailers and laboratories* A person may have multiple licenses, except for laboratories* License fees would be capped at $5,000* Excise tax of $50 per ounce would be imposed on cultivation facilities10% of that revenue would go for enforcement and another 10% for addiction treatment.Russell, who has more than 30 bipartisan co-sponsors on her bill, told reporters she wants Maine to avoid some of the headaches they’ve run into in Colorado. “Colorado had to scramble to pull together their regulations and I think by and large they’ve done a good job, but it’s very hard to create regulations after the fact,” Russell said.Supporters from both parties say the war on drugs is a failure and it’s time to wave the white flag on marijuana.”Every day non-violent Americans are incarcerated and pit behind bars simply because they consumed a plant that is safer than alcohol, yet arbitrarily deemed dangerous,” said Ashley Ryan, a committee woman with the Maine Republican Party. Ryan was one of many supporters who attended a press conference prior to the hearing. But don’t tell that to those in law enforcement. The Maine Sheriffs Association showed up to testify in opposition of the bill. “The whole idea that the war on drugs is a failure because it’s tying up all of our resources isn’t necessarily true,” said Joel Merry, Sagadahoc County Sheriff. “If you stop and think, the war on drugs also involves illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and all of that.”Even if this bill becomes law, it still violates federal law, which Merry says puts law enforcement in a bind as to how to enforce and uphold the law when it comes to marijuana.”It depends on what the specific act is. To some extent, we would have to uphold and enforce state law, but we would also work with federal authorities in enforcing their laws as well.” Maine sheriffs aren’t the only ones who oppose the bill. To the surprise of some, the Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association of Maine also testified in opposition. “Philosophically, we’re not opposed to decriminalizing marijuana, but the devil’s in the details,” said Paul McCarrier, of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association of Maine McCarrier calls Russell’s bill bad legislation and sites numerous problems he and his colleagues have found in it. “There’s no scope of protections in there for the individual to grow it. And the amount of plants they’d be able to cultivate is completely unrealistic. There’s an astronomically high excise tax that will endanger public safety, and there’s also license discrimination that will prevent the small producers from being able to participate in the legal market.”McCarrier told the committee it’s a bad idea to model Maine’s bill after failing legislation passed in Colorado and Washington. Programs he says are “currently costing taxpayers millions in an attempt to monitor and control the market.”Governor LePage’s spokesperson Adrienne Bennett says he will make up his mind on the bill if and when it gets to his desk. The final hurdle would be Maine voters, who could get to weigh in at the polls this November.