Almost four years after legalization, Maine will open its recreational marijuana market to public sales on Oct. 9.
Consumers won’t know where they will be able to buy legal adult-use cannabis until Sept. 8, when the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy announces its first round of fully licensed testing labs, cultivation facilities, manufacturing plants and retail stores. License holders will have a month to harvest, test and package their products for sale on opening day.
“Today’s announcement is a major milestone in honoring the will of Maine voters and a significant step toward launching a new industry in the state,” said Erik Gundersen, director of the Office of Marijuana Policy. “Many of the business owners we have spoken with during the application process are ready and eager to commence operations.”
Maine has issued 194 conditional state testing, cultivation, manufacturing and retail business licenses to date. Of those, 33 have obtained the local authorizations required to move forward to the state’s third and final licensing phase, in which regulators will confirm that the safety and operational plans outlined in each application comply with all state marijuana laws and rules.
While it is unknown which of these applications will receive final approval by the Oct. 9 launch date, conditional licensing shows that businesses want to operate in municipalities as far south as Eliot, as far west as Stratton and as far northeast as Bangor. The state has issued the most conditional licenses to would-be Portland marijuana entrepreneurs.
Those hoping to make a living in Maine’s newest industry aren’t the only ones eager to launch Maine’s recreational market.
Consumers who voted in favor of legalization in the November 2016 referendum have complained about the wait – the longest of any state that has legalized marijuana – while the program underwent legislative rewrites, a change in governors and bidding delays before crashing headfirst into a global pandemic that put the oft-delayed launch on indefinite hold.
The seven states that legalized recreational cannabis use and sales before or at the same time as Maine – Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Massachusetts and Nevada – required an average of 497 days from legalization to record their first sales. Even Michigan and Illinois, states that legalized after Maine, have logged months of retail sales.
“Mainers have been waiting nearly four years for access to legal cannabis,” said David Boyer, the former state chapter director of Marijuana Policy Project and the campaign manager of the adult-use legalization campaign. “October’s launch date is something to celebrate, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”
While each retail store will be different, consumers can expect rules and purchase limits to apply to any licensed adult-use shop, which is essentially the only part of the state’s nascent recreational marijuana industry that will be open to the public. All grows, labs and manufacturing facilities are essentially off limits to anyone but employees, regulators and vendors.
Consumers will have to show government-issued ID to prove they are 21 years old to even enter a shop, much less buy cannabis. Daily purchases are limited to no more than 2 ½ ounces of dry-leaf marijuana, or 5 ounces of concentrate. Edibles can’t exceed 100 total milligrams of THC, the chemical that gets a user high; single edible servings are capped at 10 milligrams each.
State budget officials trying to fill huge pandemic-related holes in Maine’s spending plan have been waiting on the tax revenues from projected sales, which the state estimates could hit $168 million in its first full year of operation. Private research firms say that number could be even higher, and project it will create 6,100 new industry jobs, too.
It is difficult to say what a market launch will look like during a pandemic. The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy is working with the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development to tailor the pandemic safety checklist for typical retail shops to the marijuana market, including acceptable physical distancing rules and customer limits.
It is unclear what the state’s Oct. 9 launch date, or its plan to issue the first active licenses on Sept. 8, means for the heated legal battle over who is eligible to apply for a state marijuana business license. The state law says only four-year residents are allowed to get a license until 2021, essentially giving locals a first-mover advantage in what is expected to be a lucrative market.
But Wellness Connection of Maine, which runs four out of Maine’s eight medical cannabis dispensaries and is owned by out-of-staters, filed suit, claiming the residency requirement was unconstitutional. In May, the state agreed not to enforce that part of the law in return for Wellness withdrawing its claim. In response, a group of local marijuana entrepreneurs filed a counter suit.
A judge heard arguments from lawyers for the state, the Wellness Connection and the Maine Cannabis Coalition, the residents group, on Monday. State lawyers said the administration has the right to decide which parts of state law to enforce. The judge said he hopes to issue his ruling in the next two weeks, before the state begins issuing its first round of active business licenses.