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News Feature

Augusta
Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 2, 2017 and Island Ad-Vantages, November 2, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, November 2, 2017
Legislature amends retail marijuana, ranked choice voting, and food sovereignty laws

by Anne Berleant

In a busy legislative special session on October 23, the Maine House and Senate amended several bills, including referendums passed last November approving ranked choice voting and retail marijuana sales.

The citizen-adopted law to convert state elections to a ranked-choice system of voting has faced partisan-based conflict since the Maine Supreme Court found the system to be incompatible with a requirement in the state constitution that election winners are to be determined by a plurality, in which the winner receives the most votes whether or not that’s a majority of voters. An amendment to the ranked choice voting bill LD 1646 delays it from taking effect until December 2021. If a constitutional amendment is not adopted allowing for this voting system before then, the law will be automatically repealed at that time.

The laws surrounding retail marijuana remain a moving target, with the legislature voting to amend the Marijuana Legalization Act, to require municipalities to “opt in” by having citizens decide in favor of allowing retail, commercial marijuana in their town. The amendment bill also sets the 5 percent municipal share of the collected 10 percent sales tax to be sent directly to the municipality hosting the retail operation, and an excise tax on marijuana cultivation facilities. The deadline for Governor Paul LePage to sign the amendment bill is November 3. The 84-52 House vote approving the Act to Amend the Marijuana Legalization Act is a few votes shy of the two-thirds majority required to overrule any governor veto. The Senate approved the amendment bill 22-9.

The legislature also unanimously approved amending food sovereignty bill LD 725, signed into law by Governor LePage in June and scheduled to take effect November 1. The bill validated municipal ordinances exempting agricultural products raised and sold within the municipality from state regulation. However, after notification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it would exercise its authority to subject meat and poultry to federal inspection if the law were not amended to allow the state to continue its inspections, the bill was amended to exclude meat and poultry.