Businesses, law enforcement officials and advocates for the state’s medical marijuana program are looking toward – or bracing for – the week before Christmas, when adults at least 21 years old will be allowed to possess and grow marijuana in Maine.

The change is the result of Question 1, the divisive referendum proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. The measure drew nearly $1.2 million in spending during the month of October and passed by an unofficial margin of just over 4,400 votes. Despite the looming threat of a recount and opposition from Gov. Paul LePage, Maine is poised to join eight states and Washington, D.C., on the growing list of jurisdictions where recreational marijuana use is legal for adults.

“This is a huge new industry that has been prohibited since the ’30s,” said Catherine Lewis, president of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine trade association. “It’s not like you’re opening up a slightly new market. This is a very new market.”

Supporters argued legalization would allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, boost the state’s tax revenue and take cannabis out of the black market. Opponents worried it would increase youth access to the drug and bring big businesses from out of state that would dwarf local competitors. The trade group did not take a position on the initiative, but focused on protecting the medical marijuana program.

Lewis described herself as “cautiously optimistic,” but said some patients are worried a recreational market will force small-scale growers to close and limit access to medication.

Lewis wants to see the Legislature approve protections for caregivers and their patients; for example, she said caregivers shouldn’t be limited to five patients.


“We want to make sure the patients are not going to be left without medicine,” she said.

Marta Downing, the chief operating officer of Canna Care Docs of Maine, didn’t share those concerns. Some patients have called the provider with questions about recreational marijuana, she said, but Canna Care Docs has reassured them their care will not change.

“The one thing I am 110 percent certain of and believe with my whole heart is, cannabis as medicine and wellness is never going away in spite of any ballot questions or legislative agenda,” she said.

Bob Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and a retired South Portland police chief, said the state needs to prepare law enforcement to respond to the new recreational marijuana market. The association came out against Question 1 before Election Day.

“There’s certainly going to have to be some rules and some regulations,” he said. “We’re obviously, as an association, always willing to work with someone to try to make a law better.”

In particular, Schwartz said the Legislature needs to establish a blood-level limit to determine a driver’s impairment. A bill to that effect failed this year.


The law will allow adults at least 21 years old to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, as well as six mature plants, 12 immature plants and an unlimited number of seedlings at any given time.

Marijuana stores and social clubs will not open immediately because the state needs time to establish licensing and rules. But other business are looking to claim their stake in a new market.

On Thursday, Cameron Bonsey, the marketing director for Coast of Maine Organic Products, sent an email to more than 1,450 garden centers and other distributors of fertilizers and soils with the subject line “Capitalize on Cannabis.” The message promoted a grower’s mix specifically designed for marijuana plants, saying sales of the product in Maine “have been nothing short of amazing.”

“On Tuesday, 16 million citizens in nine states voted to legalize cannabis for medicinal or recreational use,” the email read. “More and more consumers are becoming interested in growing cannabis.”

Coast of Maine developed its cannabis-specific soil in response to interest from caregivers, who Bonsey said have different needs than backyard gardeners. While that particular blend is only a small portion of the company’s sales, Bonsey expects to see more interest and openness to growing marijuana.

“I think you’re going to see more and more people going into their local garden center, and more and more of them will have sections specifically for (cannabis),” he said.


Sam Doolittle, an employee at GrowLife in Portland, estimated as much as 85 percent of the store’s business already comes from people who are growing medical marijuana plants. The store sells indoor gardening and hydroponic equipment, including lights, grow tents and nutrients. Now that Question 1 has passed, Doolittle said the business would likely offer demonstrations and question-and-answer sessions about recreational marijuana and home growing.

“There’s certainly an expectation that there’s going to be a lot of people who want to try to grow their own,” Doolittle said.

At Evergreen Mechanical, contractor Gordon Wiley wasn’t so optimistic. He installs HVAC systems for medical marijuana caregivers and dispensaries, estimating he has installed close to 400 units in the last two years.

“My clientele may change, or it may go away all together,” he said.

He worried small-scale growers that make up his client base would close, and recreational growers wouldn’t want to invest in professional systems that require his HVAC units.

“As far as recreational, do I see a future in it?” he said. “There might be. It depends on what catches on.”


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