Maine’s long march toward a legal adult use marijuana marketplace is nearing a big milestone. The Office of Marijuana Policy, Maine’s marijuana regulator, anticipates issuing active licenses for cultivators, processors and retail stores this month. These licenses would allow cultivation of marijuana plants and manufacture of products all for the adult use market to begin late this summer. However, while licenses may be issued to stores late this summer, those stores won’t be permitted to start sales until some point in the future, likely sometime later this fall.

At this point, the most significant concern of marijuana businesses is ensuring that there will be an adequate supply of marijuana inventory for the retail stores when they open. A typical growing cycle takes several months, and no one wants to delay retail sales any longer than necessary. Many stakeholders hope that the Legislature will, in a special session, approve a bill allowing expanded transfers from medical marijuana providers to adult use operators.  This could go a long way toward alleviating supply concerns. That bill had substantial support last spring, but the Legislature hadn’t acted on it when they adjourned because of the pandemic.

As we near the long-awaited opening of this market, marijuana businesses that are licensed are focusing on getting ready to commence operations. This means hiring and training employees and securing packaging and labelling that meet regulatory requirements, among other start-up tasks. Marijuana establishment employees need to go through background checks and obtain state-issued registry cards, and will need to be trained in the standard operating procedures adopted by operators as part of the regulatory process. The state imposes a variety of testing, labelling and packaging requirements on retail marijuana products, and manufacturers and store owners will need to be able to prove compliance with those rules, and be in a position to have their products meet testing standards, before they open their doors.

While some businesses are now getting close to launching operations, many are still in the licensing process. The Office of Marijuana Policy continues to accept and process new applications on a rolling basis, as do the variety of municipalities that have “opted-in,” meaning that they have decided to permit marijuana operations in their jurisdiction. A few municipalities, including Portland, chose to limit the number of marijuana licenses available.  This created some controversy among industry stakeholders and members of the public.  Portland’s marijuana business ordinance only authorizes the City to issue 20 medical and adult use retail store licenses in total. License applications will be subject to a competitive scoring process if more than 20 store applications are received by Portland’s August 31 application deadline, or if any applicants are within 250 feet of one another. We continue to hear from new clients every week seeking to start the licensing process, which can be long and cumbersome.

So while for many businesses, there is some hint of light at the end of a long tunnel, for many others the journey is still under way, or just beginning.

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