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Is Marijuana Really Legal in Maine? Well, It’s Not So Simple

iStock
iStock

So… we all know by now that the people of Maine voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana last year, and that measure is set to take effect in 2017.

According to Ballotopedia, the measure passed with just over 50% of the vote.

Ballotpedia
Ballotpedia

Under Maine’s law passed by the people, possession and consumption of small amounts of the drug would be allowed (and presumably not prosecuted by state authorities). The law also allows the Maine Legislature and local communities to come up with rules governing the sale of marijuana at dispensaries. Specifically, adults over the age of 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and use it on private property.

All of this is now up in the air, due mainly to the election of Donald Trump as President.

Here’s why:

Under federal law, it’s still illegal to possess, sell, or use marijuana anywhere in the United States. And if you remember back to your high school civics class, federal law (national law) overrides state law. So technically, states can’t really “legalize” it completely, they can just direct their local law enforcement officers and local prosecutors to not get people in trouble for it… in local courts.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice, the federal agency that prosecutes people for breaking federal laws (not state laws), adopted a “state by state” approach, that basically used the will of the people in each state as a guide. Sure, marijuana use has always been against federal law, but they effectively said that if a state (like Maine) wanted to vote to legalize marijuana, they wouldn’t come down hard on local people or dispensaries if they were following local laws.

Obama himself even said that marijuana should be treated like cigarettes and alcohol.

Now, Donald Trump is president, and he thinks very differently about marijuana. He doesn’t agree with allowing individual states to determine legality for themselves, and his new Attorney General (the head of the Department of Justice) hinted this week that a federal crackdown might be coming soon.

So, what does this mean for Maine?

Well… the honest answer is, we’re not sure.

People who use marijuana for personal reasons have done so for a long time, and probably don’t have to worry about federal agents busting down their door at 3am to make an arrest. Under the Trump Administration, we can expect the federal government to make it harder for states like Maine to carry out the legalization of the sale and use of the drug. That means dispensaries might have a harder time getting started, or might be shut down entirely by the federal government.

The bottom line here is this…

If you were thinking that the days of people smoking legal weed on the sidewalk or munching on a pot brownie after hitting up a marijuana store on Congress street were right around the corner, you might have to wait a while. All indications point to the Trump administration trying to stop that from happening, and like it or not… they can stop it.

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