Officials in Maine are planning a new division of the state Drug Enforcement Agency devoted solely to cannabis crimes, the Portland Press Herald reports. The four-person unit would be funded by $649,000 from cannabis industry-derived taxes.
Michael Sauschuck, commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, said the unit would focus on illegal cultivators, processors, retailers, and sales to children that happen outside of the legal market. A civil compliance unit would focus on regulatory enforcement.
“We legalized a whole bracket of drugs and the vast majority of people are going to absolutely comply with that, but there will be those that push that limit. As other states have seen, there is absolutely a time and place for enforcement.” – Sauschuck, in testimony to lawmakers on Monday, via the Press Herald.
Sauschuck noted that the illicit market “doesn’t just go away overnight” and that 99 out of 100 licensed operators were “doing things the right way.” He said that currently cannabis crimes in the state are a “complete bottom-of-the-rung priority.”
Mark Barnett, a Portland coffee shop owner who is applying for a recreational cannabis license and is currently a medical cannabis caregiver, called the proposal “a move in the wrong direction and counter to the very idea of legalization.”
“We do not want to see one additional person incarcerated for marijuana,” he said during his remarks to lawmakers.
Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent who supports the creation of the unit said his “hope would be” that the state wouldn’t have to jail people “to convince the gray market to participate in the regulated marketplace.”
Recreational cannabis was legalized in Maine on Jan. 1, 2017; however, the rollout of the industry was stalled due to opposition from then-Gov. Paul LePage (R). LePage’s successor, Democrat Janet Mills, signed the adult-use cannabis regulation bill last summer.