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Unlike Mass., Maine lawmakers debate their new pot law in public

Peter Dejong/AP

When it comes to embarrassing political headlines, Maine is usually miles ahead of Massachusetts. That’s thanks in large part to Governor Paul LePage who’s known for, um, his bombastic style.

But on at least one issue, Maine political observers and lobbyists say, the Pine Tree state has bragging rights over the Bay State.

Massachusetts legislators have been blasted for rewriting the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law in secret. But a similar committee in Maine charged with amending that state’s pot initiative is drawing praise for its transparency — even from activists who have battled legislative leaders over the law.


“Seeing what’s going on down there [in Massachusetts], it gives me perspective,” said David Boyer, the Maine political director for the national Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored that state’s successful 2016 recreational marijuana ballot question. “Up here, we can listen from home online. It’s pretty amazing and egregious that in Massachusetts, no one can hear the discussions that are going on about a law that was drafted and voted on by citizens.”

Massachusetts lawmakers on the marijuana committee have organized six public hearings on pot policy, including two outside the State House. But they mostly debated the issue in closed meetings — standard practice on Beacon Hill, but unusual for a ballot initiative approved by 1.8 million state voters last November.

Last month, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said the public will be “served very well” by legislators working behind closed doors, while Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said the process was closed “so that the members may dig down deep and move as quickly as possible.”

Nearly two weeks after blowing by a self-imposed June 30 deadline to produce a final bill, however, the group seems no closer to finishing, and members won’t say which issues are settled and which remain sticking points.


In Maine, meanwhile, legislators have held over 30 public hearings on pot policy, with more scheduled this month, and have released a list of issues on which there is consensus. As if to illustrate the contrast, Maine lawmakers on Wednesday unexpectedly opened up a working session of the marijuana committee for public comments.

Maine attorney Ted Kelleher, whose firm represents cannabis companies, jumped up to testify.

“It’s been a good process,” he said. “Marijuana regulation is an area of intense public concern and interest, so it’s important that the public has input as this citizen-initiated act is overhauled.”

“People on the inside here look at the inability of Massachusetts to move the implementation process forward and feel fortunate we’ve got this committee that’s working as openly and methodically as it is,” Kelleher added.

Dan Adams can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.