LePage says he will veto retail pot bill

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Gov. Paul LePage plans to veto the recreational marijuana bill once it reaches his desk because it would not combine Maine’s medical and adult-use marijuana programs.

The two-term Republican has problems with having two regulatory systems and tax structures for different uses of the same plant, according to his press secretary, Julie Rabinowitz.

If the pending adult-use bill becomes law, Maine would tax recreational marijuana at an effective rate of 20 percent while taxing medical marijuana at a much lower rate of 5.5 percent, or 8 percent for medical edibles. Each program would have its own set of rules.

LePage raised this concern when he vetoed the Legislature’s first attempt to launch Maine’s recreational market in November 2017. In his veto letter, LePage said having a medical program with weaker regulation and a lower tax rate would undermine the adult-use regulations and that these two programs must be considered together. He characterized the medical marijuana program as having failings and loopholes that caregivers are exploiting.

The state lawmakers who crafted the latest adult-use marijuana bill believed they were addressing LePage’s concerns when they decided to move the medical marijuana program from the state Department of Health and Human Services over to the state Department of Administration and Financial Services, which would also be managing the recreational program.

In bill workshops, lawmakers said putting the two programs under the same regulatory umbrella would allow Maine to combine certain parts of the programs, such as the enforcement of packaging and labeling, while keeping the oversight of the health aspects of the medical program under the supervision of the health and human services legislative committee.

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Their attempts to find ways to consolidate parts of the two programs appears to have fallen short of LePage’s desire for a total merger but angered many in the caregiver side of the medical marijuana community, which consider the bill the first step toward abolishment of the medical program. Caregivers who oppose the adult-use bill said that moving the medical program out of the state’s health department will be bad for medical marijuana patients.

Lawmakers who support the compromise adult-use bill hope they will have enough votes to override LePage’s veto. The bill passed with veto-proof margins in the House and the Senate last week, but a veto could erode that margin, especially among House Republicans, who last year led the effort to sustain LePage’s veto. The bill will get a final vote by the Senate and land on LePage’s desk this week. He has 10 days to finalize his veto.

This story will be updated.

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