AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill designed to correct problems in Maine’s new marijuana legalization law breezed through the House and Senate on Thursday but ended up at the center of a political showdown late in the day when Gov. Paul LePage refused to sign or veto it.
After meeting with legislative leaders late Thursday afternoon, LePage said he won’t sign the bill until lawmakers “fix it.”
“I will sign this bill as soon as I have direction that we can have the money and resources before we start writing the rules,” said LePage.
Recreational marijuana becomes legal in Maine on Monday. LD 88 was designed to remedy problems lawmakers found with the citizen-initiated bill, such as the fact it would make pot possession by minors legal. It was enacted by unanimous votes in the House and Senate.
Both of those votes were above the two-thirds majority threshold required to overturn a gubernatorial veto, which was expected by some at the State House after an amendment favored by LePage failed in the House on Thursday morning. That amendment would have shifted oversight of the sales and regulation system for marijuana from the Department of Agriculture to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations and provided $1.6 million in funding to set up the system.
In addition to fixing the problem that affects minors, the bill in question delays the implementation of the sales and regulatory system for three months beyond what the referendum called for, until February 2018, in order to give lawmakers more time to write and implement rules.
Asked why the changes contained in the failed amendment can’t be dealt with later by a special committee the Legislature has created to implement the marijuana law, LePage said he does not trust lawmakers to follow through on any promises. He said that’s partially because of a roadblock put up by Democrats in December 2016 on LePage’s plan to build a forensic mental health unit at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.
“They told me Riverview would be resolved before Christmas,” said LePage. “I can’t trust them, and I don’t mind saying it folks, the relationship is not strong.”
Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport said LePage has shirked his responsibility to enact the law in order to keep pot out of the hands of people under age 21.
“Every person in this state should be outraged,” she said. “The people in the legislative bodies did their job and took it very seriously. Our responsibility is greater than any grievances we have with each other. My feeling is that the governor is not fulfilling his responsibility to the people of the state right now.”
Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said the Legislature could have avoided the showdown with the governor by acting more quickly on the bill.
“He’s frustrated that it’s being brought to him on the 26th of January when everybody’s known we had a Jan. 30 deadline,” said Fredette. “Under the Constitution he has 10 days to think about it, and I think he’s going to exercise some of that time. He’s frustrated that it’s being brought to him at this late juncture.”
What happens next is unclear. LePage has 10 days to sign the bill or veto it or the bill automatically goes into law. The Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until Tuesday, and Gideon said it is impractical for lawmakers to return over the weekend should LePage veto the bill in the next couple of days.