Photo: Brian Klonoski / Planet Experts
With the narrow passage of Question 1 on Election Day, Maine got groovy, hit the proverbial bong and joined California, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Colorado in legalizing recreational marijuana. Now that legal weed in Maine is suddenly a thing, legislators, growers, entrepreneurs and tokers are all scrambling to figure out just what that means. Don’t worry… we’ve got you covered.
Most states that have legalized recreational ganja are bastions of liberalism in a country that has seemingly shifted its political course toward the far right. Maine… not so much. While there are sizeable pockets of young, progressive voters in Portland and throughout Cumberland County, the Pine Tree State is old (the second-oldest in the nation), rural and red. Donald Trump even managed to pick off one of Maine’s electoral votes, winning the 2nd Congressional District by a significant margin.
In addition to the political and generational divisions splitting Maine, the state has a complicated relationship with drugs as it grapples with a pernicious heroin epidemic. These schisms ensured the path to legalizing weed would never be an easy one. But Question 1 did indeed succeed — by a mere 4,000 or so votes and less than one percentage point. And now, the same sociopolitical fissures that made passage so tenuous are beginning to disrupt implementation of the law.
So Is Weed Legal?
YES! You can finally unstash your hash and light one up — completely within bounds of the law. Just be sure to peruse the many rules listed below. You can’t smoke in public, for example, nor can you sell your weed, home-grown or otherwise.
The law went into effect 30 days after Governor Paul LePage certified the election results, which he did on December 31st.
— MaineSOS (@MESecOfState) January 3, 2017
That means that as of January 30th, Mainers can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of Mary Jane — more than twice the amount permitted in California, Oregon and Colorado. Even though Question 1 is widely viewed as one of the most progressive cannabis legalization measures in America, there are still plenty of rules:
- You must be at least 21 years old to use, possess or transfer up to 2.5 ounces of herb and any reefer-related accessories, like bongs and bowls.
- You can possess, grow, cultivate, process or transport up to 6 flowering marijuana plants, 12 immature marijuana plants and unlimited seedlings.
- You can possess all the bud produced by legal marijuana plants growing in your residence, even if it’s more than 2.5 ounces.
- You can’t sell weed, but you can give it away — up to 2.5 ounces and 6 immature plants, as long as the lucky giftee is 21 or older.
- You must consume your chronic in a nonpublic place. Breaking this rule is a civil violation punishable by a fine not to exceed $100.
What About the Recount?
A recount totally happened, or at least began, but was abandoned in mid-December after a fifth of the ballots had been reviewed without any significant change in the margin of victory. It was actually a pretty classy move by the No on 1 opposition effort, Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities.
“We promised folks that if we came to a point where we could not see any chance of reversing the result, we would not drag the process out,” Newell Augur, legal counsel for No on 1, said in a release. “We are satisfied that the count and the result are accurate.”
A recount of all the ballots could have cost taxpayers as much as $500,000. Thanks to the early stoppage, Mainers were left with a much more palatable tab in the neighborhood of $15,000.
Is LePage Gonna Screw This Up?
The state’s controversial Republican governor, Paul LePage, has been his usual outspoken self in criticizing Question 1 and cannabis legalization. He even went so far as to release a video full of exaggerations, false claims and outright propaganda, urging Mainers to vote against the initiative.
Following the election, there were fears that LePage might block the implementation of Question 1 after he appeared on a radio show and claimed that ballot referendums are just “recommendations.” Scholars intimate with Maine’s constitution disagreed. Either way, LePage signed and certified the results on December 31st, though he did note “strong concerns regarding the integrity of Maine’s ballot and accuracy of Maine’s election results.”
Beyond blocking or delaying legislative efforts to fund the regulation and sale of pot, there’s little LePage can do. Legal weed is coming to Maine.
Is My Weed Gonna Be Taxed?
Well, duh. That’s sorta the point. Maine needs to benefit from this whole shebang, and taxation is the best way to do that. The good news, though, is that compared to other states, Maine is leaving a bunch of cashish on the table. The sale of marijuana will be taxed at a piddly 10 percent, giving Mainers an opportunity to smoke without going broke.
For comparison, Colorado levies a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent sales tax and additional local taxes, like a 3.5 percent tax in Denver. In Oregon, there’s a sky-high 25 percent sales tax, though it will eventually dip to 17 percent. And in Washington, the total effective tax rate is about 44 percent, including a 25 percent sales tax.
Beyond being used to enforce whatever pot regulations the state enacts, it’s not exactly clear how the tax revenue from weed sales will be spent, with 98 percent of the money going into a general fund and 2 percent going into a fund to be distributed to local municipalities. While far from Earth-shattering, the funds will be significant. Question 1 could mean as much as $10.8 million in additional revenue every year.
Where Can I get Legal Weed in Maine?
Nowhere quite yet (unless it’s medical marijuana), but there will eventually be regulated pot shops and clubs. This would be a good time to delve into the finer points of Question 1 beyond rules for possession and use:
- It provides for the licensure of facilities to grow, manufacture, test and sell marijuana.
- It provides for the licensure of marijuana clubs, where patrons can buy and consume cannabis.
- It puts the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in charge of regulating the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana. This includes limiting the total amount of weed cultivated for recreational sales.
- It allows cities and towns to ban or establish limits on retail marijuana establishments. Some are already exercising that right. Municipalities can also require separate local licenses for such establishments.
There’s your answer. Buy your bud in licensed retail establishments and clubs — whenever they open. In the meantime, if you buy your weed on the black market, it may be legal to smoke and possess, but the actual purchase is a no-no, even with Question 1 in effect.
When Will Those Pot Shops Open?
Here’s where it starts to get a little complicated. Establishing and regulating a recreational weed industry takes a lot of work. Originally, the state legislature had nine months to finalize rules and regulations governing the cultivation, manufacture, testing and sale of marijuana. That’d put late 2017 or early 2018 as reasonable guesses for when you’d be able to stroll into a licensed pot shop and buy legal weed in Maine.
But now lawmakers are becoming a bit paranoid (may we suggest a relaxing indica to take the edge off?). Insisting that they need more time to figure this all out, legislators introduced a bill calling for a one-year moratorium on marijuana sales. That would make February 2018 the earliest date that retail marijuana establishments could open. The bill also calls for a ban on edibles (which Governor LePage demonized in the above video) until February 2018, a bit puzzling considering not everyone wants to smoke or vaporize their weed.
The Yes on 1 folks are fighting back, hoping to defeat the measure.
“It’s being submitted as emergency legislation so that means they will need two-thirds of the House and Senate to pass this,” David Boyer, who led the Yes on 1 campaign, told the Portland Press Herald. “We are cautiously optimistic we will be able to bring together a coalition of progressive Democrats and libertarian Republicans to put the brakes on this.”
Regardless of these potential delays, the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana will be legal come January 30th. You just won’t be able to legally purchase pot for a while. A major bummer indeed.
For more Planet Experts coverage on recreational marijuana, check out our profile on Prop 64 and legalized Mary Jane in California.