Lawmakers in Maine rejected a bill Monday that would have legalized recreational pot, ending the last chance marijuana advocates had for getting legal weed through the Legislature this year. The bill will go before the Republican-controlled Senate, where it’s likely to suffer a similar death, the Bangor Daily News reported.
LD 1380, introduced by Democratic Rep. Diane Russel, a long-time supporter of marijuana legalization, would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess and use marijuana for nonmedical purposes. It would have set up a system for the drug to be regulated, taxed and sold like alcohol, similar to what’s in place in Colorado and Washington, which legalized recreational pot in 2012. The Democratic-controlled state House voted Monday 98-45 against the bill, according to the Associated Press.
Russel’s bill would still have had to get the approval of voters, but would have at least established the framework for such a law to be enacted. “We have learned so much from Colorado and Washington state, but the biggest thing we have learned is to not get caught off guard,” Russell said last month when defending the bill.
Some lawmakers said their reason for voting against the bill was that they didn’t want to jump the gun on legalization. “We don’t know what voters will or won’t do. They change their minds,” Rep. William Tuell, a Republican, told Bangor Daily News. “If the voters do legalize marijuana, [but the Legislature passes this bill], we’re essentially heading them off at the pass.”
Marijuana legalization will likely go before Maine voters in 2016 after the state approved a petition by pro-pot group Legalize Maine in April. The group will have to gather 61,000 signatures by Jan. 22 to get the referendum on the November 2016 ballot. Maine legalized medical marijuana in 1999.
The state’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage has said he’s opposed to marijuana legalization on the grounds that it leads to other, more dangerous drug use, but that he would support it should voters approve it. “From what I know right today, I would be against it. I just know too many people that no longer are here, that started with marijuana and died with heroin,” LePage said during an interview in August 2014. I will say this: If marijuana goes to a referendum and it’s passed, then it’s the law of the land. I’ll honor it.”