What will Maine’s legalized marijuana market look like?

Nov 08 2017

What will Maine’s legalized marijuana market look like?

Maine is in a state of legalized marijuana limbo.

Last year, Maine voters decided to legalize recreational marijuana use in the state beginning at the start of 2017. But the referendum they voted on had very loose guidelines for how legalization should be implemented. Instead of strict directives, the law gave state legislators a timeline to figure out licensing and other issues related to retailers and distributors.

Last week the state legislature passed a bill that would have established those guidelines. But it appears Maine’s governor, Gov. Paul LePage, is prepared to veto that legislation.

Gov. LePage is a staunch opponent of marijuana, even calling it a “deadly” gateway drug. As opposed as he is to legalizing the drug in any manner, it’s unclear what form of recreational system he would approve. And that’s where this situation gets interesting.

Without legislation, Maine will fall back on the referendum version of the law, which has very few regulations. Some fear this could create a black market that essentially undermines the strengths of legalization from a government standpoint, namely taxation and regulation of the drug. State legislators went through fierce debates to pass the legislation likely to be vetoed, and now face a “back to the drawing board” scenario with no promise that another deal wouldn’t be vetoed.

Without taxation or licensed retailers and distributors, you have effectively created a lawless system that conservatives would certainly find abhorrent and put a bad face on legalization efforts everywhere.

Gov. LePage’s feelings and veto power aside, Maine has still made progress. Legalization is still on the books, it’s just a matter of figuring out the system to regulate it. But that’s exactly why this situation is worth paying attention to. As more states inevitably turn toward legalization, they will need a model system to follow and data to support or condemn that system. However Maine decides to regulate its recreational market, it could have consequences for legalization efforts in other states down the road.

The successful taxation efforts in Colorado and other states have already peaked the interest of many lawmakers, especially in those states facing serious budget issues. But whenever legalization is brought up anywhere, people on both sides of the debate look at the few case studies available to support their arguments.

If Maine’s foray into legalization brings an influx of state funds while decreasing crime and accidents, it will help improve legalization chances in other states. But if it descends into unregulated chaos, it could hurt legalization efforts and serve as a black eye for proponents. It’s unclear what Maine’s system will end up looking like, but many will be watching to see what happens.