Whether Mainers will get to toke up without worrying about the police may depend on President-elect Donald Trump.

Gov. Paul LePage told a Portland radio station he “will be talking to Donald Trump about it” because he’s not sure if the new administration is going to enforce a federal law prohibiting the use of marijuana.

If Trump won’t clear the way for recreational use of the drug in Maine, LePage said, “then I have no choice except to not put this into play,” despite a referendum endorsing it.

Trump has given contradictory statements over the years about his views on marijuana, but during the campaign, he only gave explicit approval for medical marijuana use, something Maine already allows.

LePage opposed the ballot question. He also told WGAN his gubernatorial counterpart in marijuana-friendly Colorado advised “delay, delay” in taking the steps necessary to establish the required regulatory framework.

LePage, who called for rejection of all five of the non-bonding questions on the ballot this month, is eyeing possible legislative revisions to several of the four that voters backed.

There is “a lot” the Legislature could do, the governor said, to minimize what he perceives to be the negative impact of both the minimum wage hike and the income tax surcharge for education that voters endorsed.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” LePage said. “It’s up to them.”

In talking about the marijuana ballot question, the governor sounded doubtful about implementing it. At one point, he mentioned, “if it goes into effect” after talking about administrative hurdles that officials have yet to figure out.

“Careful what you wish for,” LePage said. “I’m worried about it.” 

LePage said Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, called Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana a boondoggle.

Hickenlooper, who could not be reached Friday, said other states should “delay, delay” as long as they can because his state is “having a massive problem on our highways” with a rise in fatal accidents tied to drug use, according to LePage.

Trump’s views on the marijuana issues are mixed.

The president-elect told Bill O’Reilly that “in some ways” he thinks legalizing marijuana is good “and in other ways, it’s bad. I do want to see what the medical effects are.”

Last year, Trump told The Washington Post that if states eyeing a green light for recreational marijuana “vote for it, they vote for it,” which may be an indication he wouldn’t interfere in Maine.

On the other hand, three people who are close to Trump — Vice President-elect Mike Pence, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — are strong critics of legalizing the drug.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ruled as recently as August that even medical marijuana would remain a top-level controlled substance because it “does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.”

Even so, 28 states allow medical marijuana in some form and eight have legalized recreational use of the drug as well. Seven of eight marijuana ballot initiatives across the country this month have passed.

Maine’s ballot question appears to have won a narrow victory, but opponents are looking into a possible recount.

Assuming it passed, LePage said the state is going to need to spend “several million dollars” to “create a whole new agency” to deal with the issue because the marijuana measure assigns oversight of regulation to the Department of Agriculture. The governor said the department has no capacity to do that.

LePage said the Legislature could assign the responsibility instead to Maine’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations.

In either case, he said, bureaucrats “gotta write the rules” that govern the issue, which don’t exist.

The governor said there is also an issue that needs to be addressed about marijuana use by children. Some officials, including LePage, have speculated the changes imposed by the referendum open the door to letting minors have free access to marijuana.

“I’m very concerned about that,” LePage said.

Adjustments in the marijuana law’s language are not the only changes eyed by LePage.

MINIMUM WAGE

He said he’s also going to ask legislators to take a look at the minimum wage initiative that voters backed.

Under the measure, the state’s minimum wage will increase from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour beginning on Jan. 1.

It would then rise by $1 a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. After 2020, the minimum wage would increase annually by the cost-of-living hikes calculated in Consumer Price Index, rounded to the nearest multiple of a nickel.

At least some legislators plan to push for an even greater increase. James Handy, a newly elected House Democrat from Lewiston, said on Election Night he’ll press for a minimum wage of $15 an hour when he gets to Augusta.

For workers who are paid in part with tips, the approved minimum wage change also requires employers to pay everyone at least $5 an hour starting on Jan. 1, with the assurance they’ll earn at least another $4 an hour in tips in addition.

The minimum wage figure for employees who get tips will rise every year until it reaches the same figure that other workers receive. That will happen in 2024 or later.

LePage said on the radio that hiking the minimum wage “sounds really good on paper,” but he remains concerned that it will push up prices and hurt Maine’s many senior citizens who are scraping by on Social Security.

It amounts to “throwing the elderly to the curb,” LePage said. “These folks have worked their entire lives, lived in Maine, contributed to Maine’s economy. Nowadays they’re in their golden years and we’re going to punish them. That piece is really the most repulsive and egregious of the whole bill.”

Advocates, however, said concerns about price increases are overblown and pointed out that a third of working seniors will benefit directly from a higher minimum wage.

“Seniors are among the fastest-growing age groups in Maine’s labor force, and a significant number of them work in low-wage occupations,” a report by the National Employment Law Project concluded. “Maine seniors who would see higher wages from a $12 minimum wage would find it easier to make ends meet.” 

Though he dislikes the entire measure, the governor said the provisions about tips are what he’s going to ask the Legislature to reconsider.

“I’m going to push hard that the Legislature reverse that one and reverse the indexing,” he said.

LePage said during the campaign that forcing the wage revision for employees who earn tips will cut into workers’ earnings and force restaurants to raise prices or perhaps even close. He said it would hurt the tourism industry the state depends on.

“We have a habit in Maine of taking whatever the No. 1 industry we have and we kill it,” LePage said, pointing to shrinking businesses that once thrived, from logging to dairy.

“We don’t like to be No. 1 in anything, unless it’s the oldest state in the union,” the governor said. Maine has the highest median age of any state.

INCOME TAX SURCHARGE

LePage said the 3 percent income tax surcharge is another problem. It will kick in for households that earn more than $200,000 annually starting for the tax year that begins in January.

The governor said the surcharge begins soaking the middle class from “day one because a family income of $200,000, to me, is middle income. That’s not wealthy.”

Only the top 2 percent of tax filers in Maine earn more than $200,000 annually.

LePage pointed out that California alone imposes a higher income tax on top earners, but its top rates don’t kick in until household income is more than $1 million annually.

The money raised from the new surcharge would be used for education funding starting in 2018, under the terms of the ballot question. The Office of Fiscal and Program Review estimated it would bring in $142 million in its first year, with an increase of $12 million annually in future years.

The money would flow into a new Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education with the intent of supplementing school aid levels.

Fiscal reviewers noted, though, that there’s no guarantee future Legislatures won’t simply lower the baseline education aid to match the expected new revenue.

LePage said his budget proposal “can present the 3 percent surcharge as an income tax” but he’s “not required to add that onto anything.”

It’s not clear what he’s contemplating, but LePage pointed out his duty “is to make sure that we do not overtax Maine people and only for the tax needed to run the state.”

The governor said that every year he’s been in office, he has increased education aid, from $892 million in 2011 to $1.14 billion this year. He said, however, “there’s just not enough money to ever meet their appetite” because of inflated administrative costs that he would love to pare.

The other ballot question that passed, on ranked choice voting, is likely to wind up in court, LePage said. He said he thinks it violates Maine’s constitution.


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