AUGUSTA, Maine (Oct. 9, 2020) – Licensed retailers can legally sell recreational marijuana in Maine beginning today, despite federal prohibition.
The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) originally planned to launch retail sales in April, but pushed the timeline back to Oct. 9 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OMP approved conditional licenses for adult-use marijuana establishments in March and issued its first active licenses on Sept. 8, including three cultivation licenses, two for retail stores and one for a marijuana testing facility. As of Monday, the OMP had issued licenses for seven retail stores, seven growers, four manufacturers and one lab, according to the Portland Press Herald.
The licensing process got off to a slow start. According to the Press Herald, more than 100 growers still await their state license to grow recreational marijuana. As a result, the evolution of the recreational market will likely get off to a slow start.
“Much like everything else in this world, it’s going to look a lot different than we originally anticipated,” Maine Office of Marijuana Policy Director Erik Gundersen told the Press Herald. “There is going to be limited access, fewer stores than we originally envisioned. It has taken longer for applicants to get through the system. There’s the potential for limited product and limited supply.”
Gunderson conceded that the opening of the market won’t be “the big celebratory day I am sure industry and consumers were hoping for.” But he said despite a much slower start than envisioned, he fully expects the industry to grow.
Legal retail sales begin nearly four years after voters approved a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Under the law initially established by the referendum, adults in Maine could grow up to six mature marijuana plants and possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana for personal use, but they couldn’t legally buy or sell cannabis. The referendum left it to the legislature to create a framework for licensing sellers and commercial cultivation.
Establishing retail sales was a long and arduous process that had to overcome a veto by Gov. Paul LePage.
Maine will begin legal retail marijuana sales despite the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains the complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use removes a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By legalizing cannabis, these states can essentially sweep away at least some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Maine joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
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