Legal Weed Sales in Maine Slow—But There’s Still Lots of Marijuana

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There are but eight legal marijuana dispensaries in the great state of Maine. Eight cannabis outlets to service all the weed needs of 1.3 million citizens (or, legally at least, about 51,324 marijuana patients).

There will certainly be more once the state figures out how to regulate retail commercial sales—an open question, considering the bellicose, anti-marijuana Trump supporter occupying the governor’s office—but in the meantime, sales at the eight outlets is slowing down.

Is Maine growing bored with legal weed? Hardly, some industry experts say. More likely, consumers are losing their patience with their limited options at dispensaries and turning to other sources.

As the Portland Press Herald recently reported, Mainers spent just shy of $25 million on cannabis in 2016. That’s about a five percent increase from 2015—simply “pitiful” growth, according to Timothy Smale, president of the state’s Dispensary Operators Association, and almost certainly proof of cannabis consumers giving up on dispensaries and going to caregivers to obtain cannabis instead.

There’s data to support that contention.

Caregivers are small growers who can cultivate marijuana for themselves and five certified cannabis patients. There are now 3,244 caregivers in the state, according to the newspaper—and that’s an increase of almost 44 percent, an enormous spike in alternative supply.

According to Catherine Lewis, who chairs the board of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, if each caregiver grows an average of three ounces a month—a very modest haul indeed—caregivers represent another $27.3 million worth of marijuana a year. Three ounces a month is less than three pounds in a year, so even that could be conservative.

Lewis and Smale both believe that after a visit or two to a dispensary, a patient knows enough about the plant and what they want to pursue it more cheaply from a caregiver.

There’s also some contention that the state’s successful legalization initiative, which allows all adults 21 and over to grow six plants and possess up to two ounces of cannabis, is discouraging marijuana consumers from going through the ritual and hassle of becoming a certified patient and buying marijuana from a dispensary.

But the very real issue of too few outlets to serve too few people should not be discounted.

The incentive to become a certified patient is all but but gone, now that marijuana is available in a store. And those stores are both far-flung—in some cases, hours’ worth of driving away from patients—and run by near-conglomerates.

Half of the state’s dispensaries are owned by one company, called Wellness Connection. Wellness Connection recorded $16 million in sales last year, CEO Patricia Rosi told a committee of the state Legislature, and she is positive marijuana patients are giving up on renewing their annual certification in favor of some off-brand solution, like caregivers or the heretofore black market.

Or, since this one company represents more than half of the market, maybe they’re doing something wrong. In which case, the state deserves at least some of the blame for allowing one firm to corner half of the market. 

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