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Retail marijuana bill passes Maine legislature by veto-proof margin

April 12, 2018 GMT

Maine has moved closer to allowing legal recreational marijuana sales after a regulatory bill establishing rules for the state’s eventual commercial marijuana industry cleared both the state House and Senate with veto-proof margins.

The Maine Senate on Wednesday voted 24-10 in support of a compromise bill implementing new regulations for the state’s retail marijuana market, opening the door for recreational dispensaries to eventually operate in accordance with the results of a 2016 ballot referendum that called for legalizing the plant and initiating a system for licensing, taxing and tracking retail cannabis.

The Maine House of Representatives passed the same bill will similar support a day earlier, 112-34, giving the legislation enough backing in both chambers to override any potential veto from Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who rejected similar regulations approved by lawmakers last year.

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Mr. LePage’s office did not return messages seeking comment on either vote. He previously said he did not support legalizing marijuana since the plant is prohibited under federal law.

Nine states including Maine have passed laws since 2012 legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and six currently have systems in place for commercially regulating, taxing and selling cannabis Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state notwithstanding federal legislation prohibiting the plant.

Mainers agreed to start a commercial cannabis industry when voters narrowly passed the Maine Marijuana Legalization Act in Nov. 2016, but differences among lawmakers and Mr. LePage’s veto of their last regulatory bill in November have kept legal sales from starting.

The bill passed in both the state House and Senate sets an effective 20 percent tax rate on marijuana products, reduces the number of cannabis plants each person can grow from six to three and nixes the “cannabis social clubs” included in the voter referendum.

Retail marijuana sales would likely start in 2019 or 2020 if the bill is affected. It faces further votes in both chambers before going to the governor’s desk.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January rescinded an Obama-era policy memo regarding federal marijuana prosecutions that effectively permitted states to legalize recreational and medical marijuana without risking federal intervention. Treasurers of four states that permit marijuana use requested a meeting with Mr. Sessions last month regarding the decision, and a bipartisan bill introduced in the House in February would effectively restore the earlier protections eroded by the Trump administration.

“The attorney general is committed to reducing violent crime, stemming the tide of the drug crisis, and dismantling criminal gangs. The Justice Department will utilize every legal tool provided by Congress to fulfill these commitments,” a Justice Department official told The Washington Times last month.