On November 3, 2017, Maine Governor Paul LePage announced that he had vetoed a bill sent to his desk with tepid support that would have taxed and regulated the commercial sale of recreational marijuana. The veto prolongs a somewhat odd state of affairs in Maine in which Mainers may legally possess and cultivate recreational marijuana for personal use, but the commercial sale of recreational pot has yet to be authorized. Accordingly, so-called “pot shops” have not been allowed to open in the state. In November of 2016, Maine voters approved a recreational marijuana ballot initiative that legalized the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of recreational marijuana by residents 21 years of age or older, as well as the cultivation of up to six adult marijuana plants for personal use. The ballot initiative also approved the commercial sale of recreational marijuana, but Maine’s legislature has yet to allow that to happen.
The recently vetoed bill would have created a state licensing system for commercial cultivators, retailers, and product manufacturers in the state and imposed a 10 percent sales tax and an excise tax based on weight for wholesale sales between growers and retailers. In addition, municipalities would have been required to allow retail establishments to open. Following Governor LePage’s veto, Maine’s House of Representatives tried to override the decision but failed to amass the requisite two-thirds majority vote for doing so, which effectively killed the bill as written.
As grounds for his veto, Governor LePage cited inconsistencies between the bill’s proposed regulation of recreational marijuana and the state’s existing regulation of medical marijuana. He also indicated concern that increased enforcement of federal law, which still views marijuana as an illegal controlled substance, could jeopardize the state’s recreational industry. Proponents of the bill, however, contend that Governor LePage’s veto is part of an effort to unnecessarily delay the full implementation of last November’s ballot initiative. Of note is that Governor LePage recently joined with Republicans in the legislature to push for a moratorium on all recreational sales until at least 2019. That proposal has been opposed by Democrats who hold a key majority in the legislature.
While Maine continues to wrestle with whether and how to regulate commercial sales of recreational marijuana, employers with Maine operations should keep in mind that it is nevertheless legal for employees to use recreational pot—and employers are prohibited from basing employment decisions, including hiring, solely on the fact that an individual is a known recreational marijuana user. Employers, however, do not need to tolerate the use, possession, or distribution of recreational marijuana on their premises, or by employees during working time, nor may employees be on duty while under the influence of recreational pot.