AUGUSTA – The Legislature on Wednesday overturned a veto by Republican Gov. Paul LePage that would have again stalled the legal sale of recreational marijuana, taking a major step toward launching a legal retail market for the drug.

The votes of 109-39 in the House and 28-6 in the Senate sets Maine on a path to the legal sale and production of recreational marijuana some 18 months after voters approved legal marijuana at the ballot box in 2016.

The vote in the Senate finalizing the law came after only a short debate in which a staunch opponent to legalization, Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, made an impassioned plea to his colleagues to support the governor’s veto. Cyrway, a former Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, said legalizing the possession and use of recreational marijuana would put more children at risk for drug problems in the future.

Cyrway also invoked the name of recently slain Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Eugene Cole, saying the man charged with Cole’s death, John Williams, had an apparent drug problem.

“This guy had a drug problem and we are setting ourselves up to have more of them. We’ve got to stop it,” Cyrway said.

Others who voted to sustain the veto said lawmakers had made too many changes in the measure voters approved at the ballot box, such as reducing the number of flowering plants that can be grown for personal use from six to three.


“We are not making a choice between legalizing or not legalizing marijuana,” said Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, “The citizens referendum already spoke to the rules we would like to put in place.”

However, critics were outnumbered by those who supported the bill, which was crafted over the course of nearly a year by a special legislative committee that sought to refine elements of the ballot-box measure.

The adult-use bill is more conservative than the bill approved by referendum voters in November 2016. It doesn’t allow for social clubs, which means adults who buy their cannabis here will have to consume it on private property, with the permission of the property owner. The number of plants that residents can grow on their own property, or someone else’s with permission, has been cut from six mature plants to three, because lawmakers hope to reduce black market sales.

The bill doesn’t cap the number of licenses, or the amount of recreational cannabis that can be grown in Maine, which some entrepreneurs complain will drive down prices so far that small growers won’t be able to survive, leaving only those with out-of-state money behind them standing in the end. To allay those concerns, lawmakers voted to give the first three years of business licenses to those who have lived and paid taxes in Maine for at least four years.

LePage, a staunch opponent of marijuana, vetoed the bill last week saying he doesn’t want Maine to operate two different marijuana programs – medical and adult-use – with two different tax rates and two different sets of rules, and raised concerns about the impact of marijuana impairment on traffic crashes. He said he cannot “in good conscience” support a law that violates federal law because marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 drug.

LePage also said that other states that have legalized recreational marijuana “have seen staggering increases in motor vehicle fatalities resulting from marijuana impairment.” He did not offer data to support this assertion.

“After one of the worst years in recent memory for crashes, fatalities and pedestrian fatalities, we should take every step to ensure safety on Maine roads instead of making them more hazardous,” LePage wrote. “No branch of government has a monopoly on a good idea; if Maine is going to legalize and regulate marijuana, it will require our joint efforts to get this important issue right.”

The marijuana bill was one of about 20 vetoes that bounced back and forth between the chambers for votes Wednesday. Lawmakers sustained eight vetoes Wednesday morning, including measures that would have established a student loan bill of rights and one that would have required mental health awareness training for public school officials. The mental health bill was a response to the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Republicans opposed the bill in the House, saying it was another unfunded mandate and that existing law already required suicide awareness training for teachers and others who have contact with public school students.

This story will be updated.

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