Last November, Mainers voted on five ballot questions. Each of them proposed to make major policy changes based on a single sentence on the ballot. And as we are now seeing from further examination of Question 1 — recreational marijuana legalization — it can be highly misleading to boil an extensive piece of legislation down into a simple Yes or No vote.
While many voters supported the question, it’s important we keep in mind that there were nearly as many who didn’t.
Last week, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee spent roughly 15 hours reviewing the new law slated to take effect Jan. 30. After one public hearing and two work sessions, it was evident that Question 1 is riddled with problems and unintended consequences that need to be addressed by the Legislature before certain aspects of the law can take effect.
In the end, the committee unanimously passed an amended version of LD 88, which was introduced as emergency legislation to correct a number of issues before marijuana legalization takes effect. The amended version, if passed, will provide lawmakers with an extra three months to work with state departments on drafting rules governing commercial operations to ensure that marijuana legalization is enacted in a thoughtful and responsible manner.
This week, the committee amendment will get a vote in the House and the Senate, with two-thirds support required from both bodies for passage before it goes into effect.
Some Question 1 proponents would like to see the law go into effect as drafted, but that simply isn’t practical. When it comes to legalized marijuana, the stakes are too high and the consequences are too dire to get this wrong.
While a slim majority of Mainers voted in favor of legalizing marijuana, it’s hard to believe that any of them want children to be allowed to grow, possess, or consume the drug. But as the legislation was drafted, this will be allowed unless we intervene.
The new law states that individuals must show identification to confirm they are over 21, but it says nothing about these folks being prohibited. In other words, as long as the cashier checks the ID, the sale is legal. This isn’t the intent of the law, and it isn’t the will of the voters. It’s an unintended consequence because of poor drafting.
Question 1 also defines marijuana in a different way than it’s defined in the Maine Criminal Code. According to criminal code, marijuana includes the leaves, stems, flowers and seeds, but doesn’t include resin extracted from any part of the cannabis plant. The new law defines the plant and cannabis as marijuana. This is a serious oversight, as the law restricts the amount of marijuana individuals may legally possess, yet the potency of cannabis is exponentially stronger.
The amended version of LD 88 would take care of both problems before the law takes effect, but there are many more issues that need to be addressed before the legalization takes full effect.
In the coming months, a special legislative committee will have to address issues regarding workers’ compensation, which departments should have oversight, potency limits on edibles, how to ensure that our roadways remain safe and how the law applies to Unorganized Territory, because Question 1’s definition of municipalities leaves them out.
If legalized marijuana is going to be the law of the land, we need to make sure that we do it right the first time. I am confident we are on the right track to respect the will of the voters without causing any undue harm.
Sen. Ron Collins, a Republican, is serving his fourth term in the Maine Senate. He represents District 34, which includes communities in York County. ollins serves on the Veterans and Legal Affairs and Transportation committees.