50 States

50 States: Maine

By David Jenison

Medical: Yes
Recreational: Yes
Decriminalized: Yes (up to 2.5 ounces)

Maine is a state with many distinctions. For example, no other state has a one-syllable name or a one-state border. Another bit of Pine Tree State trivia, however, might be more historic: Portland was the first East Coast city to legalize recreational cannabis, and Maine (along with Massachusetts) became the first east coast state to do the same. 

Residents in the November 2016 election passed the Maine Marijuana Legalization Measure (Question 1) by the slightest of margins. The measure passed with 50.2 percent of the vote, with 49.8 percent opposed. Question 1 allows individuals age 21 and older to possess and transport up to 2 1/2 ounces of cannabis and up to six plants, and cultivate up to six flowering plants, 12 immature plants and an unlimited number of seedlings in their residences. 

Polling ahead of the election found strong support for legalization. Interestingly, some people suggested the likelihood that Maine will vote for legalization increased support in Massachusetts, which feared losing out on business and tax revenue. Keep in mind, the states' two largest cities, Portland and Boston, are only 112-freeway miles apart. In the end, Maine legalized cannabis by less than half of one percent, while the Bay State did so by an impressive eight-point margin. Opponents demanded a recount but eventually dropped the effort when it was clear the outcome was not going to change. 

As of July 2017, the state has finally started talking about regulation, but Paul LePage, the state's scandal-fraught Republican governor, seems intent to fight legal cannabis. The governor, who looks just like the Penguin from Batman Returns, openly said he wishes he could repeal legalization and that he hopes Attorney General Jeff Sessions starts to crack down on cannabis. Clearly he and Sessions see cannabis through the same ethnic-colored lens. LePage has blamed the state's drug problem on "people of color or people of Hispanic origin," claiming that "guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty... come from Connecticut and New York... [to] sell their heroin, then they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave."

Maine previously legalized medical marijuana (MMJ) in 1999 with 61 percent of the vote, and the residents of Portlandia East voted to legalize possession (up to 2.5 ounces) in 2013 with 67 percent of the vote. Its neighboring city, Portland South, followed suit in 2014, though the city of Lewiston voted against it. As noted by the Portland Press Herald, these votes are largely symbolic since cannabis possession is still prohibited under state and federal law, but two different referendum campaigns utilized the citizen-initiative process to put the issue on the 2016 statewide ballot.

Maine received nearly $1 million in tax revenue in 2014 based on $16 million in MMJ sales, and the prospect of a major tax revenue spike from recreational sales certainly appealed to many in the libertarian-minded state. In May 2015, the legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee rejected a bill designed to legalize recreational cannabis, and Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) lost her primary battle this year in large part because she supported legalization. 

Thanks to chefs like Sam Hayward of Fore Street restaurant in Portland, the state is famous for farm-to-fork and trawl-to-table cuisine, and appropriately enough, the capital city (Augusta) hosts the annual Home Grown Maine expo, arguably the largest cannabis trade show in New England. 

Photo credit: Unsplash.

 

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