Gov. Paul LePage is proposing a moratorium on full implementation of Maine’s recreational marijuana law until 2019.

According to House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who is sponsoring a new moratorium bill on behalf of LePage, both the law that’s on the books, which was enacted last year in a statewide referendum, and a new bill to implement key aspects of legalization that will be taken up next week, are flawed. He said the implementation bill hasn’t been available to lawmakers long enough for them to absorb the details.

“This option provides legislators with the opportunity to deal with this issue during the regular legislative session which starts in January, rather than having a straight up or down vote on the bill put forward by the committee,” Fredette said in a written statement.

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he is disappointed in Fredette for erecting a roadblock after he and LePage weren’t involved in deliberations over the bill.

“It’s disappointing that Rep. Fredette is hiding behind the process,” said Boyer. “The people that are following the rules right now are the ones who are suffering with this gray area where it’s legal to possess but there’s nowhere to purchase or sell it. The people who are following the rules are the people who are being harmed.”

Fredette said he would not support the implementation bill because of the process that produced it.

That process included months of deliberations by a special Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, which produced a bill earlier this month. The preliminary text of that bill was circulated to lawmakers last Friday, and the final text was expected to be available Thursday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who co-chaired the marijuana committee, told the Bangor Daily News earlier this week that he and others have been aggressive in educating lawmakers about the proposal.

“We wish the administration had been more involved in this process,” said Katz. “We’ve spent a lot of time to put together a summary and talking points so people know what’s going to be voted on.”

As one of their first orders of business in January, the Legislature and LePage enacted LD 88, which delayed implementation of parts of the marijuana law until Feb. 1, 2018, and fixed some drafting flaws, including language that would have made marijuana possession legal for minors.

Proponents of the new bill argue that without its enactment, Maine’s towns and cities would face uncertainty and illegal marijuana sales would thrive.

Because it calls for a lengthy rulemaking process by the executive branch, which would then have to be approved by the Legislature, pushing back enactment now could slow the launch of the sales and regulation system at least until the next Legislature is seated in January 2019.

“By not taking action and not responsibly writing the rules to get this up and going, the black market just perpetuates,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, who co-chairs the committee. “Marijuana stays in our school yards, it stays being sold on the street corner. That’s not the right way to keep people safe and healthy.”

Fredette’s and LePage’s opposition could mean major trouble for the bill, which was recommended for passage in a 15-2 committee vote. LePage’s opposition means the bill would need two-thirds support in the Legislature to override a veto. Fredette’s opposition could be the bill’s death knell if House Republicans follow his lead, as they have regularly in the past, in support of the veto.

The bill would need a two-thirds majority anyway if it is to go into effect immediately and trigger the rulemaking process as soon as the Legislature adjourns next week’s special session.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.