The proposed recreational marijuana sales moratorium doesn’t defy voters wishes

1984. Great book, I know, and not enough kids are reading it these days, but that’s not what I am talking about. I think 1984 was the first year Maine didn’t receive taxes from me when I bought marijuana. I’m happy to report that since I’ve been a certified patient, the state now receives taxes from me, but there were a lot of years in-between.

Most of that illegal access involved my decision to use medical marijuana before there was a program and until I was able to be certified. Since long before the was a medical program and caregivers, there have been talented gardeners growing sweet, skunky Maine homegrown marijuana who enabled me to treat my PTSD among other things.

Stock photo

Stock photo

I learned part of what I know from a Vietnam vet who chose to retire to Maine for that reason, among a few others. He retired back in 1968, so it’s been going on at least that long.

So it was hard for me to share the sense of urgency felt by opponents of LD 88, HP 66, An Act to Delay Implementation of Certain Portions of the Marijuana Legalization Act at a public hearing on the bill Tuesday. Opponent after opponent testified before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that the twelve month moratorium would cost the state three months of unnecessary tax losses.

I can’t quite take that concern seriously. Maine has a vibrant black market that’s been around for at least forty or fifty years. Any lost tax revenue from a three month delay doesn’t amount to a proverbial drop in the bucket after decades of lost revenue.

I can’t imagine trying to quantify that much lost revenue. For a visual comparison, I’m thinking three months of lost marijuana tax revenue equates to like maybe a thimble full of sand as compared all the sand on Popham Beach or Roque Bluffs — not a comparative amount worth panicking about. Better to go slowly and craft the market carefully to insure we capture as much of the rest of the beach as possible as we move forward.

I was also confused by the idea that the moratorium defies the will of the voters, as some opponents suggested. I checked back to the text of the original question, which read:

“Do you want to legalize the possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, allow state and local regulation of retail sales of marijuana, and allow state regulation of the cultivation, manufacture, testing and distribution of marijuana?”

Now, if the question had a final clause clearly stating that “said state regulation would be established within nine months of the election as dictated in the almost thirty page legislation attached to this question,” I’d be inclined to agree.

But that’s not what the question said.

Saying that adding three months of deliberation time defies the will of the voters means that every single voter studied those almost thirty pages attached to the question. With all due respect to my fellow voters — I don’t think that happened. I say that as someone who is willing to admit that I didn’t start reading the referenda details until I started blogging.

Frankly, I’ve been kind of embarrassed to realize just how uninformed a voter I was when it came to referenda. I comfort myself by hoping that pre-blogging referenda weren’t as ridiculously complex and restrictive as the language Question 1 supporters put forth this year.

Further, to suggest the leadership behind this moratorium is trying to willfully defy voters is kind of disrespectful. I say that as someone who has been more than willing to jump all over them when I don’t think they’re doing their jobs.

In this case it is the job of the legislature to receive voter approved referenda and find a way to make them work. Given dozens of proposed marijuana bills and the immediate action by legislative leadership and the VLA committee, I’d say legislators are getting busy finding a way to make recreational marijuana work in Maine.

The lawmakers proposing the moratorium are estimating the process will take 12 months and will be overseen by a newly created joint committee. The moratorium allows for personal grows and personal use in the interim, so I fail to see the defiance. Instead, I see lawmakers hustling in a bipartisan fashion to tend to voters wishes and the state’s best interest.

Kudos to them!

Opponents also testified that creating a recreational market in Maine should be easy because all we have to do is copy Colorado.  One legislator, and I apologize to her for not catching her name while listening in the run-off room, asked an opponent to clarify why Colorado was a good model for Maine.

Great question because it’s not. How is Colorado different from Maine?  Let me count the ways:  Bigger population; bigger and more mountains; no ocean; a thriving, diversified economy ranked third by Business Insider; no post-manufacturing tailspin; etc.

While I have smoked Colorado marijuana and prefer ours, historically speaking, I can’t speak to the nuances of their black market pre-legalization. I’m guessing there are differences in that regard, too. Maine should create its own model based on our own circumstances.

At least one opponent at the hearing brought up the idea that Maine should hurry to beat Massachusetts in setting up their recreational market. Massachusetts has instituted a moratorium similar to the one being proposed here. This line of thought, again, struck me as a thimble-type concern.

Someone even suggested that if Massachusetts beat Maine to the punch, tourists who would otherwise come to Maine would stay in Massachusetts instead, during the  difference in time — which again is a hypothetical thimble full of time. I think the far more likely scenario would be that tourists would stop in Massachusetts and pick up a bag on their way up to Maine.

That’s just me piling on hypothetical conjecture on top of hypothetical conjecture, though.

I don’t want readers to think I’m being a suck-up to legislators or that I’m being redundant, but it’s worth saying again. Seeing members of both parties and both chambers work together in such an immediate and thoughtful way on the recreational marijuana issue makes me hopeful for the 128th Legislature.

Disclosure:  I attended the hearing in part as a member of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine.  MMCM is neutral regarding the moratorium, but adamant about preserving the medical program as the legislature moves forward in its decisions regarding recreational use.  Trish the private citizen supports the moratorium 100 percent.

Endnote to the lovely young woman at the statehouse who helped me figure out where the heck I was going and what the heck I was doing:  It was a harried day that wasn’t meant to include a trip to the statehouse, so I appreciate your thoughtful professionalism. And I am still honored by our brief side conversation.  Thank you so very much!

Musical endnote:  Beyond our medical marijuana program improving my quality of life exponentially, I’d like to acknowledge that, over the years, marijuana has been a conduit for meeting countless amazing people. I’ve shared laughter, tears, spirituality, philosophy, recovery stories — so many things — with strangers who became friends. Some become friends for a short time who I hope to meet again, some become lifelong friends. 

As I wrote this post, I decided that if I had to come up with a theme song for all the old-timers with whom I’ve shared, it would have to come from the Wilburys. Yes, John Prine might seem like the obvious choice, but the lyrics in this song are like a synopsis of a lifetime of awesome conversations.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.