Extras on Excise: Maine Marijuana Market Remains a Political Battlefield

MJ leaf

On Nov. 8, 2016, Maine voters passed Question 1, permitting Maine residents 21 or older to possess, grow, and purchase marijuana, by a razor-thin margin: 50.26 percent to 49.74 percent. However, over 17 months later, Maine has not enacted legislation establishing a functioning market for recreational marijuana, and the future of the industry is as murky as ever.

While one bill seeking to establish a recreational marijuana regime, 2017 H.P. 1139, showed promise in late 2017 after passing both of Maine’s legislative chambers, the bill was subsequently vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage (R) on Nov. 3, 2017. While Art. IV, Part Third, Section II of Maine’s Constitution provides for a legislative override of a governor’s veto with at least two-thirds of each chamber’s support, Maine’s House of Representatives could only muster 74 of a possible 151 votes in favor of overriding LePage’s veto, and H.P. 1139 died in the House on Nov. 6, 2017.

More recently, on April 17, 2018, the state legislature passed 2018 H.P. 1199, “An Act to Implement a Regulatory Structure for Adult Use Marijuana,” which would establish the recreational marijuana industry in Maine. Specifically, the bill would set licensing requirements and fees for marijuana cultivators, testing facilities, manufacturers, and retail stores, in addition to imposing the statewide 5.5 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana and marijuana products.

Section 1001 of the bill would also enact several excise taxes on recreational marijuana sold by cultivators, including a $335 tax per pound of marijuana flower sold to other licensees; a $94 tax per pound of marijuana trim sold to other licensees; a $1.50 tax per immature marijuana plant sold to other licensees; and a $0.30 tax per marijuana seed sold to other licensees.

While H.P. 1199 seems straightforward enough, the actual implementation of the bill remains very much in doubt, as LePage again plans to veto the bill, per the Portland Press Herald.

Hopes for H.P. 1199 may not be dashed, however, as the bill garnered much more support in both chambers than its 2017 iteration. Specifically, while H.P. 1139 received 84 initial supporting votes of support in the House and 22 of a possible 35 supporting votes in the Senate, H.P. 1199 received 112 supporting votes in the House and 24 supporting votes in the Senate.

Put succinctly: both Maine’s House and Senate passed H.P. 1199 with enough support to override LePage’s presumed veto.

That being said, after LePage vetoed H.P. 1139 in 2017, votes in support of overriding the veto waned in comparison to the original number of votes passing the bill. In addition, roughly half of Maine’s Senate and slightly less than half of Maine’s House of Representatives politically align with LePage, meaning partisan pressure to change votes cannot be ruled out.

Given the complicated background surrounding the marijuana industry in Maine, there seems to be an infinite number of possibilities for H.P. 1199; however, the clock is ticking. LePage has until April 27, 2018, to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Regardless of which action LePage elects to take, there are countless additional steps on the road to establishing a functional recreational marijuana market in Maine. Be sure to follow Bloomberg Tax’s products to stay abreast of any applicable news and updates.

Continue the discussion on Bloomberg BNA’s State Tax Group on LinkedIn: What do you think the ultimate outcome will be for 2018 Maine H.P. 1199?

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