Recreational cannabis was approved by voters and legalized in Maine in November… 2016. The state started accepting license applications on December 5, 2019. Maine already boasts an established medical marijuana program, and analysts predict the state will generate $158 million from the first year of sales. So why the three-year delay from legalization to implementation?
Cannabis has been legal to possess (but not purchase) in Maine since 2016. Those critical of the slow pace of progress place the blame squarely on political infighting and former Governor (and vocal opponent of cannabis legalization) Paul LePage. Progress resumed when Gov. Janet Mills, LePage’s successor, took office in early 2019. In June 2019, legislators finally approved the legal framework for recreational production and retail cannabis stores.
But there’s more to it than that.
Owners and investors are limited to owning three retail licenses and four grow licenses. The state has received 76 applications as of the time of this writing. According to Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP), 38 of the applications are for retail stores, 27 are for cultivation facilities and 11 are for manufacturing facilities.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Everything is still in flux. The facilities, if approved, need local approval from municipalities to open, and many cities and towns are still finalizing their own set of regulations. In fact, some municipalities have banned cannabis sales, period. The City of Portland wants to limit the number of facilities inside city limits — but the proposed licensing lottery system is still in the works.
While the OMP says that the first recreational cannabis stores will officially open for business in March 2020, regulators have up to six months to approve applications. Prospective canna-business owners can apply through an online form on the state’s website. All applicants have to pass a background check and secure a state-issued ID card.
Delays aside, Maine’s retail cannabis marketplace is anticipated to be one of the most consumer-friendly cannabis states in the U.S. Most states limit adults 21 years or older to one ounce of flower — but Maine allows possession of 2.5 ounces of flower or five grams of cannabis concentrate.