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Maine Law Limits Homegrows

The legal cannabis market in Maine may be getting stifled, thanks to a proposed law limiting the number of plants allowed in a home-grow operation.

According to a new legislative proposal, Mainers would not be allowed to grow more than 12 unlicensed cannabis plants in their home. Even without a license, those plants must be tagged with a name and Maine driver’s license number to identify the owner.

The move is intended to draw a fine line between protecting the freedom of Maine’s residents while also limiting the growth of a local black market in cannabis. Other states, such as Colorado, have suffered ill effects from too liberal home-grow laws allowing black market operations to thrive, and that has Maine legislators worried.

“There’s a tension between wanting to respect the libertarian streak in Maine, and wanting to make sure we can tightly regulate a new industry and avoid opportunity for significant diversion and illegal activity,” said Roger Katz, Senator of Augusta, Maine. “We’re trying to walk that line, find that middle ground.” Katz is also the co-chairman of the legislature’s marijuana legalization committee.

The new rule was not universally loved by that committee, and even the support it currently has is the result of a straw poll, not a full vote. Yet, the proposal is backed by both Katz and representative Teresa Pierce of Falmouth. Given that Pierce is the other co-chair, and sits across the aisle, their bi-partisan support of the measure carries some weight.

However, while the bill will stifle the black market, it may also stifle innovation. Craig Hickman is an organic farmer from Winthrop, Maine, who says a farmer should be able to rent his property to individuals who want a recreational home grow but don’t have the room to do it. Other representatives have heard from constituents planning to make businesses renting land to home growers, and this model would be hard-pressed to succeed under the proposed law.

In some ways, the current law in Maine is more restrictive, in that it only allows six plants, rather than twelve. However, current law allows a property owner to lease or give away space for others to grow on their property, so long as those grows follow the state rules, like limiting smell, visibility of the operation to the public, and child access.

Legalization advocates are threatening to retailiate against the proposal through public hearings on an upcoming bill, showing the effects it could have. “The committee should focus on establishing a robust, competitive, free market,” said David Boyer, head of the Maine Marijuana Policy Project. “Where legal marijuana sales can undercut illegal ones. Taxing marijuana at too high a rate and capping the marketplace would surely encourage the illicit market. At the end of the day, this punishes law-abiding Mainers, not criminals who don’t obey the law.”

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