Vetoing Voters, Maine's Governor Blocks Marijuana Legalization

Paul LePage says Maine shouldn't implement a legalization initiative until it's clear how the feds will respond.


Governor's Office

Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Friday vetoed a bill that would implement the marijuana legalization initiative that voters approved last November by establishing a system to license and regulate production and distribution of cannabis for the recreational market. Today state legislators are considering whether to override his veto or further delay commercial cultivation and sales. The bill passed last month with enough votes to override a veto in the Senate but not in the House.

LePage opposed the legalization initiative, Question 1, and has repeatedly expressed concerns about implementing it. In his veto message, he says he "cannot in good conscience" proceed with legalization in Maine until "I clearly understand" how the federal government will react. While "the Obama administration said they would not enforce Federal law related to marijuana" in states that have legalized the plant, LePage says, "the Trump administration has not taken that position."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not rescinded the Obama administration's policy of prosecutorial forbearance. But he has said he expects states that have legalized marijuana to provide evidence that they respect federal enforcement priorities such as preventing underage consumption and interstate smuggling.

"When the referendum seeking to legalize marijuana passed," LePage says, "it put me in a difficult position: to uphold Maine law, I would be required to flout federal law. I have sought guidance from the U.S. Attorney General on how the federal government intends to treat the legalization of marijuana by states across the nation, which conflicts with federal law. As an increasing number of states embark upon this path, it is imperative that the federal government takes a strong and public position on this issue."

Contrary to LePage's implication, much of Question 1 clearly does not "flout federal law." Provisions that took effect on February 1, for example, eliminated state penalties for possession (up to two and a half ounces for adults 21 or older) and home cultivation (up to six flowering plants). The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) does not require states to criminalize everything it criminalizes, and it would be unconstitutional if it did. When a state begins awarding licenses for commercial production and distribution of a substance banned by the CSA, there is a stronger argument that it is violating the statute. But the Obama administration never made that argument in court, and so far neither has the Trump administration.

"Gov. LePage has made a mistake by vetoing this legislation," says David Boyer, who managed the Yes on 1 campaign. "Instead of a regulated and controlled system of marijuana cultivation and sales, Maine will continue to support the unregulated market. In 2014, the governor said he would implement a legalization law if approved by voters, but he has failed to uphold that commitment." Boyer notes that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, like LePage a Republican who opposed legalization, nevetheless signed a bill implementing his state's marijuana initiative.

"It is very disappointing to see this unprecedented level of gubernatorial interference in Maine," says Matthew Schweich, who also worked on the legalization campaign. "The outcome of the referendum last year was clear: Mainers want marijuana legal, taxed, and regulated for adults. With his veto of this bill, Gov. LePage has effectively chosen to veto the will of the people."

The oddest part of LePage's veto message may be his invocation of opioid-related deaths as a reason to keep marijuana illegal. "The dangers of legalizing marijuana and normalizing its use in our society cannot be understated," he says, although he probably means overstated. "Maine is now battling a horrific drug epidemic that claims more than one life a day due to overdoses caused by deadly opiates. Sending a message, especially to our young people, that some drugs that are still illegal under federal law are now sanctioned by the state may have unintended and grave consequences."

Update: On Monday a vote to override LePage's veto failed to attract enough votes in the House. The commercial provisions of Question 1 take effect next February under a previously enacted moratorium, which the legislature may now decide to extend.

NEXT: Neither Major Party Gubernatorial Candidate Has a Serious Plan to Fix New Jersey's Pension Crisis

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  1. “The dangers of legalizing marijuana and normalizing its use in our society cannot be understated,” he says, although he probably means overstated.

    That makes more sense though. I think everything could be overstated. There is actually things that cannot be understated.

    1. The dangers of legalizing marijuana and normalizing its use in our society cannot be stated.

      1. It can only be felt by toking up and listening to Dark Side of the Moon and Houses of the Holy at the same time.

        1. Fossilized geezer logic never changes!

          “By legally allowing people to NOT attend State-Approved Holy Church Ceremonies every Sabbath, WITCHCRAFT is enabled and abetted!!!!”

          1. Witches must be burned or hung! There can be NO other way! The Bible says, “Suffer not a witch to live”, after all.

            New laws tolerating Holy Church non-attendance “send the wrong message” about witchcraft!

            Some shit just never, ever changes… New day, new TOPIC of the shit, but the shit itself, never changes!

  2. It’s got to be annoying for the feds to field calls from LaPage every time he wants to take a piss.

    1. This. Just imagine his angst if there were a movement to change the State Motto.

  3. If Maine actually existed and wasn’t just some weird myth, I would tell them to grow a pair.

    1. I’ve never before heard of anyone blocking out a whole state because of a traumatic memory. Then again, I also never heard of anyone dressing up as a moose when rut season coincided with Halloween.

      1. As Libertarians we have no time for a place that deems itself VacationLand. Anything except work is a fantasy realm.

        1. No one has actually ever even been to Maine or knows anyone who lives there. Nobody knows the names of any cities there. It’s all fake.

          1. What about all the fog-dwelling monsters in Stephen King’s book of the same name?

          2. Portland and Bangor and Bar Harbor.

            Also, they’re super into lobster up there. Like, disturbingly into lobster. And their hot dogs are red.

            1. Red snappahs, ayut.

      2. Back in the 1960’s there was a DJ named Lee Leonard who insisted that there was no North Dakota. He swore that if you drove north from South Dakota you would find yourself in Canada. He had people calling in from North Dakota (the show was in New York) saying that they were residents of North Dakota and he said that they were part of a conspiracy. Other callers said that they tried driving north from South Dakota and found themselves in Canada.

        I believe that Leonard was actually trying to distract people from the fact that there is no Maine. Clever ruse, using a real state to hide a non-existent one.

    2. It is the part of Massachusetts that Massachusetts did not want.

      1. So…Boston?

  4. [cancels skiing trip to Maine]

  5. The oddest part of LePage’s veto message may be his invocation of opioid-related deaths as a reason to keep marijuana illegal.

    So he didn’t go with the awkward borderline racism this time?

  6. “The dangers of legalizing marijuana and normalizing its use in our society cannot be understated,” he says, although he probably means overstated.

    Hey!! Did you check your interpretation with the Feds?!

  7. “When the referendum seeking to legalize marijuana passed,” LePage says, “it put me in a difficult position: to uphold Maine law, I would be required to flout federal law.

    And yet you were elected by the voter(s) of Maine to be the governor of Maine which, last time I checked, was not a federal office. I’m really not seeing the difficulty in your position of upholding the laws of Maine.

    1. I think the biggest failure of the founding fathers was their assumption that people who were representing a state would put their state’s interests first, and thus be a check on central power.

  8. What a disappointment, I thought Page might at least be a colorful populist, but what kind of colorful populist goes hat in hand to the U. S. Justice Department? Here’s a page that needs to be turned, by which I mean returning Page to private life.

  9. “””Paul LePage says Maine shouldn’t implement a legalization initiative until it’s clear how the feds will respond.””

    There would be no same sex marriage if states took this approach.

    1. If marriage is prior to the state, then either same-sex marriage exists or it doesn’t, regardless of whether the state approves or disapproves.

      If same-sex marriage exists, the state saying it doesn’t wouldn’t change the reality. But if same-sex marriage *doesn’t* exist, the state saying it exists won’t make it come into existence.

  10. In his veto message, he says he “cannot in good conscience” proceed with legalization in Maine until “I clearly understand” how the federal government will react.
    Federalism is clearly dead in Maine.

    How the federal government will react based an unconstitutional violation of enumerated federal powers to make drugs illegal? What a laugh.

  11. Can’t he just get on the phone and talk to Colorado?

  12. W/O RTFA:

    Weed remains legal in Maine, right?

    LePage just vetoed marijuana taxes and new marijuana regulations. While I’d like to see current regulations repealed this is kinda a win for small government, right?

    1. Sure, except for the part that it keeps the really big part of government in place: prohibition.

  13. he says he “cannot in good conscience” proceed with legalization in Maine until “I clearly understand” how the federal government will react.

    I have to give the crazy old coot’s media team props here – they’ve managed to keep him from sounding as crazy as he normally does.

    But its still a bullshit reason. It doesn’t matter how the Federal government will react. Simply make it legal and withdraw all state support for Federal enforcements efforts. Arrest their undercover cops if it comes up and make the Feds prove – in a court of law – that the officer was acting lawfully *in the state*. And then let the Feds enforce their laws as best they can. And every time a state pot shop is raided point straight at the President and the Attorney General and say ‘those are the people responsible’.

    Fuck, its saying we can’t stop doing something immoral because some other group doing the same thing might not stop.

  14. Kids if you want some fun
    Mister LaPage is your man
    He’s always laughing, having fun
    Showing his films in the den

    1. Excellent.

  15. Republicans are the worst. Fuck you John.

    1. Lefties are the worst. Fuck you Hole.

  16. Given all of the issues dispensaries are having with banks and all, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to not do a ton until the Feds change things. Those companies are still going to have huge problems with deposits, loans, reimbursement from damages, et al.

    1. I agree. Fortunately, that’s a decision that companies can make on their own without a Trumpalo governor granting his blessing.

      1. Maine has run into issues with the Fed Gov a few times recently (Food laws). LePage is, for sure, a law and order drug warrior type, but is also very pragmatic economically. Not sure which side of him vetoed this.

  17. He’s not wrong – marijuana is illegal in Maine and all fifty states unless and until Congress changes the law. If people in Maine want to buy and sell marijuana legally, they should be petitioning their members of Congress and not their governor.

    1. And if they want to sell marijuana without running afoul of state law – you know, the law which is enforced in the vast majority of drug cases – they should hold Rob Ford Jr’s sheep hostage until he values federalism more than licking up Jeff Sessions toilet seat drippage.

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