Medical marijuana dispensaries and caregivers are considered essential businesses under Maine’s coronavirus guidelines, but the launch of the adult recreational retail market may be further delayed by the pandemic, according to a memo released Tuesday by the state Office of Marijuana Policy.

Last month, the state’s revenue forecasters pushed back the expected opening of Maine’s first recreational marijuana shops by three months, to June.

Mainers voted in 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana, but the retail market has been repeatedly delayed for political reasons. The state already had a medical marijuana program.

Tuesday’s memo, sent to registered medical marijuana businesses and those seeking recreational licenses, urges existing businesses to review their operating procedures and identify potential areas of improvement. Those steps could include increased cleaning and managing patient lines and patient interactions, in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Other ideas may include order-ahead features and appointment-only scheduling to reduce the risk of exposure, it said.

Those steps are especially important for dispensaries, the memo says, because the staff handles marijuana and some patients may want to limit contact, especially those who feel they are at special risk of contracting coronavirus.

The memo also said the office has heard from several dispensaries and caregivers worried about staff shortages as employees self-quarantine or assume caretaker roles for family members. The agency said it would work with the industry to process caregiver assistant and dispensary employee applications.

Regarding the pending adult-use recreational market, the agency said it’s working “at full speed,” continues to process applications and may issue additional conditional licenses as soon as Friday.

But the memo also lowered expectations by concluding, “While all eyes remain fixed on a spring launch of adult use, there are several factors that may force us to reconsider the appropriateness of those plans. Several communities preparing for local authorization and to opt-in for adult use – most notably those that serve as hosts to our prospective marijuana testing facilities – may have to postpone those actions due to the effects of COVID-19 on their communities.

“Even if those actions proceed as planned, (the Office of Marijuana Policy) would be abdicating its responsibility as a regulator committed to ensuring the health and safety of the public if it were to attempt to launch a program that would result in actions contrary to the social distancing guidance provided by our state and nation’s leading public health experts.”

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