Legal recreational marijuana sales began in Maine on Friday, nearly four years after voters approved a legalization initiative in 2016. But with only eight licensed dispensaries open for the launch of legal sales and fears of looming product shortages, consumers and business owners alike are unsure what the day will bring.
Voters in Maine legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults and authorized the commercial production and sale of cannabis by licensed businesses in the autumn of 2016. However, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage thwarted implementation of the measure, leading to years of delay. After two years of legislative rewrites and multiple vetoes by LePage, the Marijuana Legalization finally became law at the end of 2018.
Erik Gundersen, the director of Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy, told local media that most of the work to create cannabis regulations for the state occurred following the election of current Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat.
“With the Mills administration, there was the creation of my office, the Office of Marijuana Policy in February of last year,” Gundersen said. “And really when we showed up, we started with a blank slate and we got to work on the regulations that we put together in short order that serve as the structure for this new industry.”
Once the regulatory framework had been established, recreational sales were expected to begin in Maine in March 2020. But further delays, including a lack of adequate lab testing facilities and challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, pushed the start date back again.
“A lot of people have been waiting,” said retail manager Margaret D’Amour of South Portland recreational dispensary SeaWeed Co. “We’ve got a lot of people ready to come and shop.”
Kaspar Heinrici, the head of business development at SeaWeed Co., said that customers who come to the dispensary for the first time will notice some changes from the unregulated market.
“You can expect prices to be a little bit higher, and that’s because of excise taxes that the state has imposed, as well as testing,” Heinrici said. “You want to make sure that there’s no pesticides, that there’s no contaminants.”
Will There Be Enough Weed?
As the regulated recreational cannabis market in Maine begins serving customers, the eight retailers are supported by only eight cultivation facilities, four cannabis product manufacturers, and one testing laboratory. The limited production and marketing capacity has led to fears that product shortages will plague the market until more licensed businesses are up and running.
Massachusetts-based Theory Wellness is also opening a recreational marijuana dispensary in South Portland on Friday. As a vertically-integrated operator, the company is currently ramping up its cultivation capacity in an effort to satisfy the expected demand.
“We’re working very hard to be able to produce,” said Thomas Winstanley, the marketing director of Theory Wellness. “At the same time, I think if there’s anything we’ve learned in the cannabis industry, [it] is there are no guarantees that anything will happen according to plan. We’ll take it day by day.”
John Lorenz, the owner of Sweet Relief in Newport, said that he isn’t worried about initial product shortages.
“It will take time, as well as next summer’s season and harvest, to get the program up to its full potential,” he said.
Under Maine law, adults 21 and older are now able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, marijuana products, and cannabis concentrates, including no more than 5 grams of cannabis concentrates. However, some stores may enact policies with lower purchase limits in an effort to ward off product shortages. A list of licensed dispensaries is available on the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy website.