Maine’s burgeoning marijuana industry has been stuck in developmental hell for the past few years. Despite Maine voters approving a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in November 2016, there are still no retailers in the state. Since then, the journey to legal marijuana sales has been fraught with a number of legislative and regulatory changes, and in one case, a gubernatorial veto.
The state released rules for adult-use cannabis businesses in June 2019 and began accepting applications for recreational retailers in December. The first conditional licenses were issued in March with the hopes of launching retail sales by spring. However, with the coronavirus pandemic raging across the country, those plans have been put on hold.
According to Erik Gundersen, director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, the state is waiting for approval from local city and town governments, but the current situation has slowed this process to a crawl.
“With the local authorization piece, the second stop in the licensing process, towns and cities across the state are really closed. Even though 87 conditional licenses are out there, the local authorization forms aren’t coming back at a volume where we can actually start a program,” he says.
What’s more, for retailers to set up shop, the host community has to opt-in and enact ordinances, creating another stop before sales can truly begin. Although more than 40 have opted in and enacted ordinances already, Gundersen says that he wants to be sure that there will be enough stores to meet the demand.
However, Maine’s largest city, Portland, has not approved an ordinance yet. On top of that, the city is proposing to put a cap on the total number of retail establishments at 20 and to use a points system to determine which firms will get retail licenses.
According to Keri-Jon Wilson, co-owner of Pot and Pan in Portland, she is disappointed that there can’t be a free market. Her company manufactures medical cannabis edibles and it is seeking an adult-use retail license and a manufacturing license.
“I think we all knew that it was going to be difficult in Portland, as we’ve watched the landscape change. Obviously, you know, it’s a little disappointing this can’t be a free market,” she says. It’s good that the city is being selective, but such measures are hard on potential applicants who have made a lot of investment but have no idea whether they will get a license, she concludes.
David Boyer, a consultant who ran the successful adult-use marijuana campaigns in Portland and statewide says there have been talks of collecting signatures to get the issue of eliminating the cap on the November ballot.
“Were confident that it’ll be easy to pass. It’s easy to explain to the voter that, you know, we just want a fair market and not a capped market.”
Experts say industry players like Plus Products Inc. (CSE: PLUS) (OTCQX: PLPRF) could be wondering when the nearly endless impediments to the cannabis industry in Maine will ever end and the sector takes off like in other places where legalization laws have been passed.
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