Maine Begins Recreational Cannabis Sales

It’s been a long and winding road for full legalization in the state of Maine, but that is ending. Sales are set to begin on October 9. Maine’s ballot initiative measure to legalize marijuana for adults and establish a regulated marijuana market passed back in November 2016, along with three other states — California, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Maine is the last of those states to launch adult-use retail sales.


Marijuana has been legal for adults 21 and older to grow and share in Maine since January 30, 2017. The legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills on June 27, 2019.


“The delays were unfortunate and unnecessary, but in the end, we’ve succeeded in replacing prohibition with a thoughtful policy that legalizes, regulates, and taxes marijuana sales for adults 21 and over,” said Marijuana Policy Project Deputy Director Matthew Schweich, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign.


The new law states that adults 21 years of age or older with a valid ID will be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of a combination of marijuana and marijuana concentrate that includes no more than five grams of marijuana concentrate. It remains illegal to consume marijuana in public spaces. Maine municipalities must opt-in to the adult-use program by locally allowing for marijuana establishments.


Brian Lauvray, Head of Development and Strategy with the cannabis consulting company MMLG has been in the state assisting companies. He said,”Maine represents a very reasonable entry point for companies looking to move to the east coast. While it’s highly unlikely that the state will ever be a Colorado or California from a sales and revenue standpoint, Maine offers operators numerous tourist-dense markets, one substantial year-round market in Portland, plus towns such as Lewiston and Bangor.” He noted that only 10% of municipalities have opted in thus far. “Operators who get in now will have the leg up on future licensing opportunities as new markets come online in the Pine Tree State,” he added. 


Lauvray also pointed out that Portland is expected to be Maine’s largest market with about 540,000 in the metro area and that once the program gets established it will serve as a waypoint for tourists going further “down east.” “It really will be a win for any operators looking to gain an east coast foothold. However, Portland applicants will almost certainly miss the deadline for state licenses being awarded starting next month in advance of recreational sales opening on 10/9.” (Portland’s city application deadline is 8/31).


In addition to just making the license deadline, Lauray said that when state licenses begin to be handed out in September and the official date for rec-use sales opening, there’s a possibility that many retailers may have limited supplies for consumers initially. “So, for consumers, operators and investors, a hefty spoonful of “expectation management” may be the order for this fall. But in the long term, Maine will be a healthy market.”


Wellness Connection of Maine (WCM), the state’s largest medical cannabis provider launched HighNorth, a Maine-centric lifestyle brand designed to meet the future needs of Maine’s recreational cannabis market. WCM created HighNorth to bridge the transition between Maine’s existing medical market and the future adult-use market.


 “Maine is known for its pristine waters, open air and majestic coastline – our goal with HighNorth was to embody the State’s brand within the cannabis industry,” says Charlie Langston, Managing Director of WCM. “We hope that locals and tourists alike think about HighNorth when they hike Acadia, ski a Maine mountain or plan a whitewater rafting trip.” 


“Soon enjoying cannabis will be as normal as having a beer,” WCM Marketing Manager Susanne Pingree says. “Maine’s microbrewers have set a strong example of how colorful, fun and savvy branding enhances the customer experience –  and that’s what we want our customers to feel too.” 


It is clear that the Maine market is one for companies that have a long-term vision. Cannapreneur Partners Co-CEO Todd Sullivan said, “Maine’s upcoming adult-use program is not without its hurdles. It has taken roughly four years to launch since residents voted for legalization.


Reasons for these setbacks include opposition from the former governor, opt-in decisions by municipalities and local authority issues, residency requirements, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to these obstacles, litigation at the state level and in Portland (Maine’s largest city) continued to throw wrenches into the mix. Our hope is that Maine will work to decrease many of the current regulatory barriers. These regulations disproportionately impact entrepreneurs in the state while favoring large MSOs that have the financial means and time needed to obtain licenses.”


Sullivan went on to say, “From an investment point of view, we see a lot of potential in Maine’s cannabis marketplace given the launch of their adult-use program and the low operating costs, although close attention to the rapidly changing landscape is necessary. In major hubs such as Portland, many businesses quickly invested in store locations and have been paying rent while waiting for the program to commence. The long wait, plus license caps, local authority issues, zoning laws and a license scoring system that has historically favored big players create some unique pain points within the state’s growing industry.”

“Maine was a tough campaign,” said MPP’s Schweich. “We overcame a difficult signature drive. Then we had to fight in court to ensure qualification for the ballot. It was a real team effort that culminated in a well-earned victory on Election Day.”