Four states legalized recreational marijuana in the 2016 election, following in the footsteps of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. But in the year since, only Nevada made retail pot sales a reality. While California and Massachusetts are moving forward to enact permanent legislation and issue licenses for pot establishments, the future of weed in Maine, the fourth state where residents voted in favor of legalization, is at a standstill after a veto by the Republican governor.
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After the November 2016 vote, Nevada moved quickly on recreational marijuana sales. By midnight on July 1, customers were lining up at dispensaries to score recreational pot that would go on sale that day, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal .
The temporary, emergency regulations enacted by the state after the vote allow only existing medical marijuana establishments “in good standing” to sell recreational products, which differ from MMJ products only in the 10 percent sales tax applied to them. Nevada hopes to adopt permanent regulations in early 2018, and to offer licenses to those not already in the medical business by November 2018.
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Meanwhile, the Las Vegas City Council is considering an ordinance that would create the nation’s first licensed marijuana lounges, according to spokesman Jace Radke. The lounges would provide paraphernalia and a place to smoke, but pot couldn’t be sold there, according to the draft ordinance.
Retail pot sales are in limbo in Maine after regulations that passed in the legislature after nearly a year of discussion were vetoed by Governor Paul LePage, and then fell shy of the two-thirds vote necessary to overcome that veto.
In a letter explaining his veto, LePage said he couldn’t “in good conscience” pass laws against federal policy unless he was sure the work wouldn’t be nullified by the federal government. LePage also said that Maine needed time to learn from other states’ mistakes, and talked about the “dangers of legalizing marijuana and normalizing its use,” especially while the state is in the midst of an opioid epidemic.
Representative Teresa Pierce, co-chair of the committee tasked with crafting regulations, has since reintroduced the bill in the Maine legislature, according to Krysta West, communications director of the Senate Republican Office. Hearings will begin in January, which should help determine any changes to the proposal before it’s sent back to the governor.
The moratorium placed on retail pot sales runs out in February, and state senator Roger Katz has already introduced a bill to extend the moratorium. If lawmakers fail to pass the extension or any new legislation, it’s possible that the law passed by voters in 2016 will go into effect, but according to West, it’s “too soon to tell.”
Regardless of Maine's politics, sales are “a long way out,” she adds, as LePage would still need to instruct state departments to draft rules and create licensing applications.
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California finished creating its emergency regulations in late November and has already issued the first batch of temporary licenses for the sale of recreational marijuana to those with local business permits, which will go into effect on New Year’s Day and last for 120 days. After that, the applicant must apply for a permanent license.
The Bureau of Cannabis Control launched an online system this month to start receiving applications. As of mid-December, twenty applicants had already received licenses and more than 200 had submitted applications, according to a press release from the bureau. Although Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego will be ready for sales January 1, a recent article from the Los Angeles Times reports many small communities and larger cities such as Riverside, Fresno and Anaheim won't be.
The state's Cannabis Control Commission, which has been criticized for including members who voted no on the question of whether to legalize recreational marijuana, plans to file draft regulations for retail pot sales by the end of this week, or at least the end of the year, according to spokeswoman Dot Joyce. The draft will go through a public-comment period around the state until February.
The state is required to have final regulations by March 15, according to the statute legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana. After that, the commission plans to start accepting applications on April 1 and have the first retail shop open on or after July 1, Joyce says.