It’s been almost three years since Maine voters narrowly legalized marijuana, and the state is finally nearing the creation of a commercial adult use marijuana market place.

Here are some of the major highlights, and open questions, about Maine’s marijuana experiment:

It’s been a long road, and there is still some ways to go. Maine’s rollout of a marijuana marketplace has taken quite a bit longer than it has in other states that have legalized.

The voter-passed marijuana legalization law contained many inconsistencies and ambiguities. The Legislature spent two sessions trying to amend and clarify the law, and finally overrode a gubernatorial veto in May 2018.

After that, rules for the granting of licenses needed to be adopted by the newly formed Office of Marijuana Policy. With the issuance of a final set of rules governing the licensing of marijuana businesses, the state is set to begin processing license applications later this year, and first sales of adult use marijuana are expected to start in the first half of 2020.

It’s been a long haul for consumers. But it’s been an even longer haul for prospective businesses.

Location, location, location. Like most states that have legalized marijuana, Maine has implemented strong local controls over commercial marijuana activities.

Edward Kelleher

Hannah King

Malina Dumas


Every municipality in Maine is legally required to forbid all commercial marijuana activity, unless it formally “opts in” to allowing marijuana establishments to operate there. So far, Maine towns have been slow to opt-in, with only around 23 having done so up to this point.

Many Maine towns are taking a wait-and-see approach to opting in. Even those towns that have opted in are imposing strenuous zoning and licensing requirements, above those required by state law.

Because the state will require proof of local approval to operate before issuing a final commercial license, being able to navigate the local opt-in and permitting processes is essential to any kind of prospective marijuana business.

If you want to be in the adult-use marijuana business, you must heed local zoning and licensing requirements, and you can operate only in a town that has already opted in. The limited number of localities that have opted in means that finding appropriate locations for marijuana retail stores, or cultivation or manufacturing sites, has gotten harder and harder – and the cost has gone up. Would-be marijuana entrepreneurs need to be ready to deal with this reality as well.

The application process. The preliminary licensure rules make clear that marijuana entrepreneurs will need to file extensive documentation with the state in order to apply for a license.

Operating and security plans, cultivation plans, standard operating procedures labels and other materials will need to be submitted, and some of these take some time to put together.

Applicants will need to have business entities formed and ownership structures in place. Applicants will need to utilize seed-to-sale software tracking and will need to be able to show that they have capacity to implement |these systems when they open for operations.

Many of these items will take time to prepare, and in some instances will require input from professional service providers.

The long and short of it: getting an adult use license in Maine will require a serious investment in planning and preparation to meet the regulatory requirements for licensure and to secure a properly permitted local site. The time is now for Maine cannabis entrepreneurs to get serious about that process.

By Edward Kelleher, Hannah King and Malina Dumas, Attorneys, Drummond Woodsum

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