Up until now, the Trump Administration’s threats to the legalized marijuana industry has mostly been a war of words and dueling letters. That changed this month.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, vetoed a bill this month that would have allowed the state to set up a regulated adult-use marijuana industry in 2018. His decision came despite the fact that voters in the Granite State approved recreational marijuana sales in a referendum in November 2016.
His reason? In his letter explaining the veto, the first issue he mentions is that he sought advice from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump appointee who has made no secret of his opposition to legalized marijuana.
“Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine,” the governor explained in a letter about the veto.
In addition to use of the word “scheme,” LePage’s letter contains a somewhat strange argument considering the fact that many states established a regulated system for legal recreational marijuana sales years ago. They include Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Sales also started this year in Nevada. Both California and Massachusetts are moving ahead with plans to allow recreational marijuana sales in 2018.
“Seven other states have passed legalization initiatives over the past five years, and none of them have seen this type of obstructionism from their governors,” the Marijuana Policy Project’s David Boyer said in a statement.
However, marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law. Trump has largely remained silent on the issue. Sessions has not, comparing marijuana to heroin and saying, famously, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
LePage wrote that he “sought guidance” on the issue from Sessions, asking him “how the federal government intends to treat the legalization of marijuana by states across the nation.”
He did not offer details on what he was told, but he had enough concerns to veto the bill. State officials had worked nine months to craft the legislation.
LePage argued that both the public and private investment into legalized marijuana could be in jeopardy if the federal government plans to crackdown on pot sales. However, he later mentioned points raised before by Sessions, such as relating marijuana to the opioid crisis and the increase in crime and car accidents in Colorado since marijuana became legal.
No studies have connected marijuana and opioid use, but LePage said legalizing a drug still illegal under federal law “may have unintended and grave consequences.”
LePage also pointed to several bureaucratic issues concerning the exact nature of the regulatory structure, its impact on the medical marijuana industry (already legal in Maine) and “unrealistic deadlines for executive action.”
LePage’s actions left legislators in Maine with little choice other than to delay implementation of legal marijuana. The state Legislature sustained LePage’s action a week after the veto, falling 17 votes short of overturning the governor’s decision.
The bigger issue, from a national perspective, is what Sessions might have said to LePage and the implications for states currently engaged in legal adult-use cannabis sales, an industry that has raked in millions of dollars for both businesses and governments (through taxes and fees).
While Sessions has repeatedly spoken out against marijuana, his office has taken no official action other than sending letters to officials in Colorado, Oregon and Washington warning them they may not be in compliance with federal regulations on selling marijuana as outlined in the Cole Memo.
Written during the Obama Administration by an assistant attorney general, the Cole Memo essentially protects states from interference on regulated marijuana sales as long as certain guidelines are met, including not selling marijuana to minors and not having cannabis distributed from a state where it’s legal to an adjacent state where it is not legal.
The Maine Marijuana Policy Project called the veto a “mistake” that will encourage a black market for cannabis. They also said that LePage had not upheld his commitment to enact the will of the people.
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