After long, long last, residents of Maine may partake in recreational adult-use cannabis because of the change to Maine cannabis laws. Nearly four years after voters approved legalization, the state officially launched retail sales on Oct. 9, 2020. As of now, five retail stores, five cultivation facilities, one testing lab and one manufacturing facility have been granted licenses. The answer to the question, “Is weed legal in Maine?” no longer comes with the “But is it for purchase?” caveat.
History of Decriminalization and Legalization
First banned in The Pine Tree State in 1913, cannabis was decriminalized in 1976 for those who possessed small qualities. Medical marijuana use was approved by 62% of voters in 1999, then in 2009, having 2.5 ounces or less was decriminalized to a civil infraction. The Marijuana Legalization Act, planned for effect within 40 days of November 8, 2016, permitted non-medical qualifying adults to legally grow and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis. Commercial cannabis production and retail sales were also to be licensed. To allow time for formulating regulations, retail sales were set to begin in February 2018, however, delays tied to legislation and the COVID-19 pandemic pushed recreational sales to open in October 2020.
Cannabis Supply and Demand in Maine
On opening day, Maine cannabis sales reached $94,000, but product shortages were widespread in the opened dispensaries located in South Portland, Bangor, Auburn, Stratton and Northport. The overall weekend saw sales totaling $258,411.58. The weekend sales tax numbers are likely over $25,800. “According to preliminary data, the long weekend (sales commencing on Friday, October 9, 2020, and concluding at end of the day Monday, October 12, 2020) saw sales of adult-use marijuana surpass a quarter of a million dollars,” the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) wrote in a tweet. Cannabis sales tax in Maine is set at 10%, and officials are expecting $6 million in sales tax revenues in the first partial year of sales. An additional $6.8 million in excise taxes is expected from growers. Predicted adult-use sales are over $250 million by 2025.
On November 3, voters in Portland decided to reduce the mandatory buffer between licensed marijuana retail stores to 100 feet from 250 feet and to eliminate the local marijuana ordinance which caps the number of marijuana retail licenses at 20. Unlike other cities, which chose to adopt ordinances for recreational marijuana only, Portland’s cap applied to both medical and adult-use stores. Of the 36 eligible applicants, only four served patients.
Under Maine cannabis laws, medical marijuana stores can sell cannabis to state-certified patients under the age of 21. Medical cannabis is also cheaper, in part because the products are taxed at a lower rate of 5.5 percent or 8 percent compared to the effective 20 percent tax rate applied to adult-use marijuana. Under the voter-approved law, recreational use customers can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of a combination of cannabis and concentrates, but no more than 5 grams of concentrates.
Out of State Trouble With Maine Cannabis Laws
While weed is legal in Maine, there may be some trouble with out of state variables. Recently, two small marijuana businesses filed a lawsuit against the state of Maine over recreational cannabis licenses granted to businesses with some out-of-state ownerships. In March, Wellness Connection sued the state over a law trying to limit marijuana businesses such as itself with out-of-state owners, but the case was dropped after the state said it would not enforce the residency requirement because it likely would not hold up in court.
The latest upset for Maine’s growing marijuana industry occurred in the capital city of Augusta this week. Local government enacted a moratorium on most retail sales from motor vehicles after the submission of a proposal to sell medical cannabis from a camper-trailer. Owner of Weed on Wheels Maine, Giovanni DelVecchio, a resident of the city, had proposed in October to renovate the camper-trailer, then establish it on a permanent site to sell medical cannabis once a city license was obtained. Instead of approval for the business plan, the Augusta Planning Board is now considering an ordinance to permanently ban such sales, preferring all non-seasonal retail businesses to be conducted within a stable building. Concerns over the security of products, as well as access to water and sewer, were stated. A public hearing about the possibility of a permanent ban is scheduled for the next meeting of the Planning Board on December 8. The proposed ban would not impact businesses already in operation or those regulated by other licensing processes, such as food trucks.
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