Maine approves recreational marijuana use

Persons 21 or older will be able to use the drug

By Stephen Anthony Sobek

Voters in Maine have approved a ballot question that legalizes recreational marijuana for adults 21 or over, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

The vote count took nearly two days because of how close the race was, within a fraction of a percentage point, ABC News reported.

Question 1 makes it legal for a person 21 or older to use marijuana. The state will put a 10% sales tax on the drug and allow social clubs and retail groups to sell it.

Maine legalized medical use of marijuana in 1999. Previous attempts to legalize it for recreational purposes have been unsuccessful.

The law will allow people to use it in a nonpublic space or in a private residence and institute a sales tax, with 98% of revenue from sales taxes going to a general fund.

Maine's governor was against the legislation, calling it "not just bad for Maine, it can be deadly." Supporters have raised more than $3.2 million to fight for it. The state's newspapers were divided on the issue.

The marijuana market is about to boom. Voters in four states approved legal recreational pot on Tuesday. Four more states expanded access to medical marijuana.

All told, it could expand the national market to $21 billion by 2020, according to New Frontier Data, part of the marijuana industry organization Arcview Group. That is up from $5.7 billion last year and an expected $7.9 billion this year.

"Despite broad political division in the country, cannabis seems to be the one factor that has drawn universal support," said John Kagia, executive vice president for industry analytics at New Frontier Data. "This has exceeded the expectations of even the most Pollyanna-ish industry participants."

California, Massachusetts and Nevada -- in addition to Maine -- approved recreational pot on Tuesday. Recreational marijuana is already legal in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Washington, D.C.

Three more states -- Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota -- approved medical marijuana, and voters in Montana removed restrictions blocking the creation of a market there. Medical marijuana was already legal in 26 states.

The four states that legalized recreational weed stand to reap big benefits in sales and taxes.

California alone, the most populous state in the union, could bring in more than $1 billion in annual tax revenue, based on a forecast from the Tax Foundation. But it would take several years to get to that point.

Annual sales of weed in California could reach $7.6 billion by 2020, according to New Frontier Data --$4.3 billion for recreational and $3.3 billion for medical. That matches the $4.3 billion recreational sales estimate from the Tax Foundation.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California for 20 years, and generates about $50 million in annual tax revenue.

In addition, Kagia said legalization will create "income opportunities for businesses that do not touch the plant but serve the needs of the industry," like financial services, security, accounting, transportation and marketing.

It takes time to establish a market after voters approve marijuana. Colorado voters were the first to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, but the dispensaries only opened in 2014.

Marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. The Drug Enforcement Agency classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the same as heroin.

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