The first two retail stores approved by the state to begin selling recreational marijuana next month are in South Portland and Northport.
The state Office of Marijuana Policy awarded two retail licenses, one testing lab license and three grower licenses Tuesday. The two retailers, Theory Wellness of Maine LLC in South Portland and Sweet Relief Shop LLC in Northport, are cleared to open on Oct. 9 when the state’s recreational market officially opens.
All grows and labs licensed Tuesday will be off limits to anyone but employees, regulators and vendors, but inside, away from public scrutiny, they will be able to start growing and testing marijuana products that will stock the shelves of the retail stores.
Theory Wellness of Maine, a business run by two Colby College graduates who are already selling medical and recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, will grow and manufacture cannabis products in a former machine shop in Waterville and sell it in a refurbished Dress Barn near The Maine Mall in South Portland.
The other retail license went to Sweet Relief Shop in Northport, owned and operated by John Lorenz, who is one of about two dozen licensed medical providers, who has been growing and selling medical marijuana out of his shop along Maine’s 500-mile long stretch of Route 1. Lorenz will run a medical and recreational grow, bakery and sales operation out of separate buildings on his property.
The industry has been eagerly awaiting the state’s announcement of first-wave licenses, but most consumers just want to know how far they will have to drive to buy legal recreational marijuana on opening day.
Consumers will have to show a government-issued ID to prove they are 21 years old to even enter a shop, much less buy cannabis. Daily purchases are limited to no more than 2 ½ ounces of dry-leaf marijuana, or 5 ounces of concentrate. Edibles can’t exceed 100 total milligrams of THC, the chemical that gets a user high; single edible servings are capped at 10 milligrams each.
State law allows retail shops to operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., but host towns can opt to adopt more restrictive operating limits.
Maine legalized adult-use marijuana at referendum in November 2016, along with California, Massachusetts, and Nevada. The other states have long since opened their markets, while Maine will have spent 1,431 days rewriting the citizen referendum law, crafting regulations, dodging political delays and outwaiting a pandemic, assuming the Oct. 9 launch goes as planned.
Of those states that allow adult-use marijuana sales, the average wait between approval and market opening was 435 days.
That has left a lot of money on the table for Maine, both in sales and tax dollars. State officials predict $168 million in adult-use sales in the first full year of the market, which would generate at least $33 million in state tax revenue at an effective 20 percent tax rate, but private research firms say that number will be higher, and create an estimated 6,100 new industry jobs, too.
It’s unclear how much of that money, or how many of the jobs, will be coming from losses suffered by Maine’s medical cannabis industry, which last year generated an estimated $111 million in sales, making it one of Maine’s biggest industries, according to state tax records. In other states, recreational markets have hurt medical cannabis sales.
To open a recreational marijuana business in Maine, an applicant must have completed three licensing phases – an initial state conditional license, where an applicant’s finances and experience is reviewed; authorization from a host community; and final active state licensing, where an applicant’s operational and security plans are approved.
For many, local permitting is the most challenging phase, requiring a community to opt into the marijuana industry as well as sign off on the usual zoning approvals. Unlike Massachusetts, for example, communities that host a marijuana business do not receive any direct stipends from the business, nor a cut of any sales taxes generated by the business.
Fifty-two of Maine’s 430 towns and 23 cities have opted to allow some kind of adult-use business to open within their borders, from as far north as Grand Isle to as far south as Eliot. Each town could decide what kind of recreational business was welcome. Camden will only allow grows, and Kennebunk only labs. Fryeburg won’t allow retail, while Newry said no to all but retail.
This story will be updated.