Maine lawmakers overturned Gov. Paul LePage’s veto to pass a sweeping medical marijuana reform bill Monday.
The Maine House voted 119-23 and the Maine Senate voted 25-8 to override the Republican governor’s veto and adopt legislation that will allow patients to use marijuana if a doctor deems it medically beneficial, grant six new medical dispensary licenses, permit caregivers to expand their business operations and give the state and municipalities more power to regulate them.
“Maine’s medical cannabis program is already one of the best in the country,” said Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who as co-chairman of the health and human services committee helped write the new law. “The passage of L.D. 1539 will make it even stronger. More access and choice for patients. More flexibility for legal businesses. And more integrity to the overall program.”
LePage, a staunch marijuana opponent, has vetoed almost every piece of marijuana legislation that has come across his desk. He has vocally criticized Maine’s medical marijuana program, targeting the state’s network of 3,000 caregivers who can treat up to five patients at a time. He says the caregiver system has run amok and lacks sufficient state oversight.
In his veto letter on the reform bill, LePage focused on a part of the law that allows caregivers to open storefronts, a practice that already occurs now but that some towns claim was not allowed by state law, and the elimination of the qualifying conditions list, which required patients to have a specific medical condition, like PTSD or HIV, before a doctor could authorize marijuana use.
Critics like Scott Gagnon, who heads up the state chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, argue the unregulated caregiver system fuels the black market, and poses a public health and safety threat.
“Medical marijuana activists, just drop the charade of pretending there is a shred of science backing this medicine-via-pot-shops model,” he said in a Twitter comment about the reform bill.
The bill will become law 90 days after the end of the legislative session.
Lammakers also overrode another LePage veto to adopt a separate piece of legislation that establishes a new kind of license for those manufacturers who create medical marijuana extracts used in edibles, tinctures and oils for patients who don’t want to smoke their medicine. The same language mirrors language adopted in the larger reform bill.
“I’m thrilled,” said Amanda Melnick, a cannabis consultant who represents Maine caregivers. “Seeing the House vote unanimously for a bill you believe is an amazing feeling. Maine’s medical cannabis program has always been unique and it deserves to be protected. These bills create the structure that Maine’s patients, caregivers, dispensaries and medical professionals deserve.”
The bills had the support of many within the medical marijuana community, but it could mean trouble for some caregivers who have set up a storefront operation without explicit municipal permission, either through ordinance, zoning or business permit. A change to the committee bill allows municipalities to shut down these rogue shops.