Former cop makes new push to repeal Maine’s legal marijuana law

Good morning from Augusta, where a potential attempt to repeal Maine’s recreational marijuana law has already sparked some pushback.

Nothing formal has happened yet but the possibility was being discussed Wednesday night by lawmakers and lobbyists at the State House as the Senate worked until nearly 11:30 p.m. Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, a retired police officer and one of the Legislature’s most outspoken opponents of legal marijuana, is attempting to breathe life into his bill to eventually repeal Maine’s pot law.

Cyrway’s bill would again ask voters whether they want legal marijuana in a November referendum because, he said this morning, the ramifications of legalized marijuana “is getting more serious than what people realize.” Cyrway said Republican Senate leadership backs his effort and is lobbying Democrats to allow votes on the bill today.

“Right now my leadership is trying to get it out but there’s been some pullback from the Democrats,” Cyrway said.

A sweeping medical marijuana bill which has been worked on for months is involved in negotiations, with the possibility that it could be blocked from enactment if the Senate holds it. That bill would make a number of changes, including increasing the number of dispensaries in Maine and overhauling the list of qualifying conditions and the number of patients caregivers can serve. Cyrway says that bill is a problem, too.

“There’s a lot of abuse from that,” he said.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is opposed to Cyrway’s attempt, according to her spokeswoman, Mary Erin Casale.

“The Marijuana Legalization Committee and the Health and Human Service Committee have done an incredible job over the past 18 months to provide a clear, consistent framework that will regulate this industry — an industry approved by Maine voters,” Casale said. “That is where our focus should be.”

The brewing last-minute pot debate was an unexpected twist in what was otherwise a long and routine slog for the Senate, which spent hours last night voting through bills that have been mired in the Appropriations Committee. The Senate voted on dozens, many of which are now headed to either Gov. Paul LePage or to the House for more action.

Among the bills advanced Wednesday were the following:

  • LD 8, which would allow forest rangers to carry firearms
  • LD 837, which provides money for administrative start-up costs for Medicaid expansion
  • LD 924, which provides funding to maintain raises for direct care workers and funds county jails for the next year
  • LD 1654, which would extend the Pine Tree Development Zones tax incentive program for businesses, which expires this year.
  • LD 1704, which would provide funding to revive the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport, which the LePage administration abruptly closed earlier this year
  • LD 1869, a crucial bill that sets state subsidy funding levels for public schools for the next year.

Many of those bills are far from finally enacted. Some face opposition in the House and others are certain to be vetoed by LePage. As usual, many of them will live or die on veto day, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.

Bond proposals advance

The Appropriations Committee voted out three bond proposals Wednesday. The three bonds include a $106 million transportation bond, a $65 million bond for Maine’s university and community college systems and a $30 million wastewater infrastructure bond.

The transportation and wastewater bonds got unanimous support from the budget-writing committee, which bodes well for their passage in the Legislature. But four Republicans voted against the higher education bond after Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, argued that the university and community college proposals should run as separate proposals.

All of the proposals now face further action in the full Legislature, which can refer them to the ballot or strike them down. They’re also subject to LePage’s veto pen.

Pingree and a U.S. Senate candidate head to the border

It’s in response to the Trump’s administration’s recent policy of separating children from their parents after being detained at the border. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday allowing families to be held together after audio recordings of crying children being held at the border were released earlier this month. The order did not end his administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute all families crossing illegally.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District will be part of a group of two dozen other House Democrats at a border patrol station in McAllen, Texas and a detention center in Los Fresnos, Texas on Saturday, where Pingree’s office said the group will speak to immigrant children and parents.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein, who is facing independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey in November, said Wednesday that he would fly to McAllen and “seek to deliver water, food, blankets, books, and toys to the children imprisoned there.”

“If that means I get arrested, I get arrested. So be it,” he told the Associated Press.

How did the BDN’s exit poll perform?

A Bangor Daily News statistical model chose the right winner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, though it was too kind to the runner-up. Attorney General Janet Mills was named the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Wednesday. Though the race went to a final ranked-choice voting round, it wasn’t close. Mills beat Adam Cote with a share of votes that was 1.34 percentage points higher than a BDN exit poll model predicted.

Overall, our model skewed a little bit too progressive. While we just about nailed vote distributions for Mills and Cote after the first three candidates were eliminated, we had Cote and Hallowell lobbyist Betsy Sweet winning more votes from former House Speaker Mark Eves elimination than they actually won.

We thought that Sweet might win 42.8 percent of Eves’ votes, but she only won 38.8 percent. We predicted that Cote would win more of those votes than Mills would, but she won more than Cote in real life with 32.9 percent to his 28.3 percent.

In the final round, we rightly predicted that Mills would get more of Sweet’s vote than she did, but Mills ended up winning 54.4 percent of them instead of 51 percent as we predicted. However, we did pretty well for a first-time experiment with exit polling and a new voting method.

Reading list

  • As expected, a Democratic legislator is the party’s nominee in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston will challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and two independents in the November general election for a seat that national Democrats have targeted in their push to take control of the U.S. House. Golden secured the nomination Wednesday when a ranked-choice voting retabulation pushed his vote total over the 50 percent threshold. Seeking his third term, Poliquin holds a distinct fundraising advantage.
  • A Maine National Guard helicopter and two pilots are headed to the U.S.-Mexico border. Breaking with all other New England and many Republican governors who are refusing to send National Guard support to aid the federal government’s border security efforts, LePage said Wednesday that he accepted to request to deploy a National Guard helicopter and two pilots to the southern border starting in July. He also said some interesting things about asylum seekers, refugees and separating children from parents accused of entering the country illegally, which you can see by clicking here.
  • Public officials who oversee development in Maine’s Unorganized Territory got an earful from anti-sprawl advocates on Wednesday. About 100 people, mostly opposed to easing development constraints, attended a Land Use Planning Commission on proposed rules that would allow commercial development to occur up to 10 miles from the boundary of communities designated as “retail hubs” — up from the current 1-mile requirement — as long as they also are within 2 miles of a public road. Environmentalists, outdoor sports enthusiasts and others said that would put 1.8 million wilderness acres at risk. The commission is due to make a decision by the end of the year.
  • Squabbling over what’s usually a routine end-of-session housekeeping bill continues to create uncertainty about public campaign financing. House Republicans continue to balk at language in an otherwise routine “errors correction” bill that would allow the Maine Ethics Commission to continue doling out money to publicly funded candidates after July 1. Enough money for the Maine Clean Election Fund to support this fall’s elections was allocated in last year’s biennial state budget bill, but a technical error in that bill leaves the Maine Ethics Commission unable to spend any money from its own accounts after July 1, including to pay overhead costs such as its rent. It remains a bargaining chip as lawmakers head into what they say will be the last day of the special session — other than a veto day.

The umpire strikes back

To break the monotony of being harassed by political operatives, I umpire baseball games.

I work games for youth leagues, schools, the American Legion and men’s leagues. On Sunday, I am scheduled to work a game for a league in which the minimum age is 60. So at any given moment, I can be incurring the wrath of players from 9 to 80 years old.

It’s a way for me to stay involved with a game I love but never played well. And being heckled by fans, parents and — occasionally — coaches is a strangely refreshing alternative to daily pestering by campaign staffers, advocates and other denizens of Maine’s political universe. At least when you don a face mask, they boo you to your face.

My wife even gets in on the act, noting that umpires on the Central Maine board get tested on rules, mechanics, positioning, game management and even uniform upkeep — but we don’t have to pass eye tests. Here is her soundtrack.

Sundays are a prime time for games, which often means I am up extra early to hit the road for a game or games in Leeds, Wales, Bethel, Poland or some other faraway place where ball players race the dawn to pay homage to the diamond gods.

On one recent Sunday, I had to run an errand for my daughter, a minister, before venturing to a game. I got up early and said goodbye to my sleepy wife, who responded with, “Don’t get hit in the face again.” [Because I had taken foul balls off the mask in the previous two games.]

“I should hope not,” I said. “I am on my way to church.” Here is my soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.