A man holds some of the free marijuana Crash Barry handed out in Monument Square on Portland on April 20, 2017.

A legislative maneuver designed to provide legal footing for another delay in the launch of Maine’s recreational marijuana sales and regulation system died Thursday in the House.

The latest kink in the effort to enact a recreational marijuana legalization law enacted by voters in 2016 came on the day current law says the system is to be in place, but lawmakers agreed that from a practical standpoint, that deadline didn’t matter.

In a mixed-party 81-65 vote, the House of Representatives turned away a bid to again delay the implementation of a marijuana retail sales and regulation system until mid-April.

Speaking Thursday on the House floor, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said he and Republican Gov. Paul LePage favor a longer moratorium but made no move to formally propose one. Fredette said that since there is no system in place to provide licenses for retail pot sales and because the executive branch has not developed rules, a moratorium is a bureaucratic intricacy that isn’t practically important.

Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, who co-chairs the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, essentially agreed, although she voted in favor of the moratorium.

“The moratorium would have offered a level of clarity to communities,” she said following Thursday’s vote. “But to get a license, you need state approval.”

Pierce said her focus will now shift to quick action on an omnibus sales and regulation bill that the committee has been refining for a year. A version of that bill was approved by the Legislature last year but failed to overcome a gubernatorial veto.

The law passed by referendum in 2016 called for the system to be in place by December 2017, but last year the Legislature delayed that deadline until today.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who co-chairs the marijuana committee with Pierce, called Thursday’s development “a minor blip.”

“The committee will be right back at work tomorrow morning as we move toward a revised overall bill,” Katz said in a written statement.

David Boyer, Maine’s director for the national Marijuana Policy Project, said Thursday a moratorium would have provided clarity to Maine towns and cities but would have made little practical difference.

“With or without a moratorium, nobody can open up a marijuana business until they get a license and until there are rules,” said Boyer. “We hope that something can get passed this session and get two-thirds support. We’re skeptical of that and because of the timing we’re starting to focus on this election, who is the next governor and making sure they respect the will of the voters.”

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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.