It was Marijuana Monday at the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee at the Maine Legislature on 2/10. The committee had public hearings on three different marijuana-related bills, and roughly three dozen people crammed themselves in and around the hearing room to participate. The all-day affair started at 10:00 am and ended around 2:30.

A crowd assembles outside the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee room on Monday morning.

Denny and I attended because we’ve been concerned about LD 1081, “An Act to Impose Further Restrictions on Where Marijuana Can Be Smoked,” but the first bill up for hearing was LD 2091, “An Act to Amend the Marijuana Legalization Act and Make Other Implementing Changes.” This legislation was sponsored by committee co-chair Senator Louis Luchini on behalf of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

LD 2091 (click here) is a complex piece of legislation geared toward the adult recreational use market; however, as several stakeholders from the medical marijuana community testified, the changes could eventually impact the medical program under any merging of regulations in the future. Primarily, patients and caregivers testified against defining alcohol and ethanol as “Inherently Hazardous Substances” as pertaining to processing cannabis at home.

Opponents of the definition repeatedly stressed the importance of patients being able to process their own medicine at home. Committee members also heard repeatedly that the definition was a solution to a non-existent problem since there were no known incidents involving processing cannabis with ethanol here in Maine. Further, medical and adult use stakeholders alike explained how the process has been used for centuries for more than just cannabis.

Craig Hickman testifies that LD 2091 should include amendments that better serve Maine’s small businesses and citizens.

Rep. Craig Hickman testified that, should be changes made to the Marijuana Legalization Act, more focus should be on protecting small business interests and on pursuing social justice as part of developing the market. Hickman offered amendments to supplement the proposed legislation. Among other things, Hickman’s proposed amendments would expand the type of licenses available, eliminate the excise tax for cultivators, establish law enforcement’s role in policing cannabis, protect parents, and readdress the make-up of the Maine Marijuana Advisory Commission.

Due to other obligations and the length of the hearing, Denny and I missed sponsor Sen. Scott Cyrway’s presentation of LD 1081 (click here) but got back in time to hear 10 people testify against it before the hearing ended. We were told no one testified in favor of the bill.

Mark Barnett testifies against LD 1081 on behalf of the Maine Craft Cannabis Association.

The proposed restriction on smoking marijuana “in the presence of persons under the age of 18” in the privacy of a citizen’s home was one of the more objectionable aspects of the bill for almost everyone who testified. Hillary Lister referred to the vagueness of the language, which left “too many unanswered questions and a lack of clarity.”

The phrase “government overreach” came up frequently in testimony. The general consensus of opponents was that the law would compromise the health of patients, would be hard to enforce, and would be weaponized in legal settings to infringe on parents’ rights and responsibilities. Michael Kebede, ACLU Policy Counsel, testified that the smoking restriction and the restrictions in LD 2091 would disproportionately impact low income and minority Mainers, the very same population most harmed by the drug war itself.

One woman gave emotional testimony about having been taken by the state from her parents, who were cannabis users, when she was 14 and never returned. This woman feared this bill would now put her own child at the same risk, after years of not worrying about that possibility as a legal patient. Another woman shared how the restriction would negatively affect her daily life as a working single mother. One caregiver said he was testifying on behalf of his few patients who were veterans and parents, and therefore, unable to publicly speak about their medical cannabis use themselves.

Senator Scott Cyrway listens to testimony against his bill LD 1081.

These women weren’t alone in raising the concern that the primary use for this restriction would be against parents, either in cases involving child protective services or in difficult family court cases. Medical marijuana stakeholders weren’t the only opponents, either. Representatives from the adult use community, like the Maine Craft Cannabis Association also testified the restriction was an invasion of privacy and property rights.

Readers can still submit written testimony for either piece of legislation. The easiest way is to email the committee directly where the clerk will make sure it gets circulated to the committee members. Email: VLA@legislature.maine.gov.