AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers returned to Augusta and took steps to decide the future of two voter-approved laws, one that legalized recreational marijuana and the other that created a first-of-its-kind ranked voting system for political candidates.
Lawmakers on Monday voted to rewrite the state’s recreational marijuana law and delay a new voting system.
The so-called ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank their top candidate choices rather than just picking one. Maine’s highest court earlier this year issued a non-binding, advisory opinion saying the ranked-choice voting system is unconstitutional for some elections.
That opinion may have influenced lawmakers, who voted on Monday to delay implementing the new law until at least 2021. The law would be repealed at that time unless the Maine Constitution is amended to explicitly allow ranked-choice voting.
Both Republicans and some Democrats supported delaying the law, after Democrats and third-party lawmakers backed an unsuccessful push to keep the new system in place only for primaries and statewide races, such as for governor.
Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said implementing the new voting system for key 2018 races for governor and the Legislature would be doable but difficult, given the lack of guidance on key issues so far from lawmakers.
“Now that we’re in October, the process of trying to figure all that out in eight months is daunting,” Dunlap said.
The House and Senate late Monday night also endorsed a revised marijuana bill proposed by a bipartisan legislative panel. Members of the panel spent months rewriting the law to allow local communities to opt-in to recreational marijuana sales, which would likely start in 2019. The bill also makes other changes, like adding an excise tax to the existing 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette asked lawmakers to simply delay sales until 2019, without making other changes. Adult possession of recreational marijuana became legal in Maine this year, while sales are delayed until at least February.
The Legislature’s Monday votes were not enough to withstand vetoes from LePage. The bills now head to his desk for consideration.
LePage had ordered lawmakers to return on Monday for a special session to fix problems in the food sovereignty law and to ensure funding for the Maine Office of Geographic Information Systems. The House and Senate voted to exempt meat and poultry from the food sovereignty law so Maine officials could continue to regulate them. LePage had said that without the exemption, the federal government would have stepped in to regulate those products.
The House and Senate also voted in support of funding the Geographic Information Systems.
The governor took steps Monday to reverse his weekend move to withdraw the nominations of five judicial reappointments. House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Freeport Democrat, said she received word from LePage that he was withdrawing the nominations Sunday, less than a day before the reappointment confirmations were expected by the Senate.
But LePage effectively put the nominations back in play in a letter he sent to Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau. The Republican governor nominated the justices in September, and the Senate confirmed the justices during Monday’s special session.