Maine Legislators Override Governor’s Veto of Marijuana Legalization

Paul LePage's obstructionism has delayed the establishment of a legal recreational market

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For the last year and a half, Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, has been blocking implementation of a 2016 ballot initiative that legalized marijuana for recreational use. Yesterday state legislators showed their patience with LaPage’s objections had been exhausted, overriding his veto of a bill aimed at creating a system to license and regulate commercial production and distribution of cannabis. The vote was 109 to 39 in the House and 28 to 6 in the Senate, well in excess of the two-thirds required.

LePage’s April 27 veto message made it clear that he is implacably opposed to the marijuana policy that voters endorsed when they approved Question 1 in 2016. “Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance,” he wrote. “The federal government has deemed that marijuana has a high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. In Maine, doctors cannot legally prescribe marijuana to patients; they only ‘certify’ its use. Possession of any amount of marijuana under federal law is a misdemeanor crime. In 2011, I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and I cannot in good conscience support a law that, on its face, violates federal law.”

While anyone who grows or sells marijuana is committing a federal felony, it is less clear that officials who license and regulate marijuana businesses are thereby violating the Controlled Substances Act. Arguably they are simply certifying that the businesses have met the requirements to escape punishment under state law. Assuming that the CSA does prohibit licensing and regulation of the marijuana industry, it is clearly at odds with the federalist principles embodied in the 10th Amendment, which let each state decide for itself how to deal with production and distribution of cannabis within its borders. Presumably that is one reason why even Maine legislators who opposed legalization are determined to follow the will of the state’s voters.