Maine on Monday became the eighth U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana use and the state's Republican governor called on lawmakers to approve funds to develop rules to oversee retail sales of the drug.
The measure was narrowly approved by voters on Nov. 8 to make it legal for adults 21 and over to possess and use marijuana, but did not take effect until Monday.
Governor Paul LePage, who opposed legalization, said he would order the state's Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to hold off on formulating rules to govern the sale of the drug until the state's legislature approved new funding. A measure approved by state lawmakers last week delayed the retail sales of the drug until February 2018.
"The executive branch must be provided with the resources necessary to implement this new law," LePage said in a statement.
Massachusetts on Dec. 15 became the first state in the densely populated U.S. Northeast to legalize recreational marijuana use, also the result of a Nov. 8 ballot initiative. Lawmakers there delayed until July 1, 2018 the legal sale the drug, leaving state residents in a gray area where they can use but not legally buy marijuana.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law but is now legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California and Alaska, as well as Maine, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
The Maine state senate on Monday named five members, three Republicans and two Democrats, to a committee charged with developing laws related to marijuana.
Legalization advocates called on the governor and legislature to act quickly to clear the way for legal sales.
"Now that the law has taken effect, our efforts must turn to the timely and effective implementation of the remaining parts of the law, to ensure that all Maine taxpayers benefit," said Alysia Melnick, a lawyer with Maine's Yes on 1 campaign.
An October poll by Gallup showed that 60 percent of Americans now support the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Even more approve of the idea of legalizing marijuana for medical use, a step that 28 states have taken.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)