You’ve encountered these storefronts in different guises around Maine. 

In Portland and other city centers, they tend to be carefully illuminated and bedecked to resemble either toy stores or Apple stores. As you carry on up U.S. 1 or get on and off 295, you’ll find them tucked into strip malls, roadside like ice cream parlors and hot dog stands or, at a glance, looking like part of people’s homes. 

We’re talking about recreational cannabis retailers, which are springing up like daisies across the state, outnumbering pharmacies, hardware shops, bookstores, you name it, where they are permitted. In less than two years, Maine has gone from having nine such cleverly named stores to having north of 100.

As we reported last week, licensing fees in the roughly 60 Maine municipalities that allow cannabis stores are – to put it lightly – discrepant. In Manchester, the fee comes in at a modest $100. Roughly 90 miles south in Sanford, the same fee is $22,500. Industry leaders say that because so few Maine municipalities have opted in, the sky’s the limit with fees. “Somebody will pay it,” said Matt Hawes, director of the Maine Cannabis Industry Association, adding that those somebodies would be “highly capitalized folks.”

That capital is on show across Portland (23 stores with 10 in the works, at last count), where the licensing fee has been set at $10,000. Once the city hits 30 stores, there’ll be one store for every 2,000 residents. Many of us would prefer if such a ratio applied to grocery stores.

A push to lift the 20-store cap in Portland on the basis that it would open up opportunity to smaller, in-state operators was successful. The resulting packed field, however, is surely threatening to the less financially insulated, more risk-averse hopefuls.


Such a profusion of recreational stores is not unique to our state; indeed, we’re really not that far along. Look at Canada, where their ballooning number has come home to roost in at least three provinces, with political parties now campaigning to crack down on the density and volume of stores, and proposing minimum distances between them.

While a lot of the day-to-day umbrage is about what meets the eye, there’s growing evidence that a no-limits proliferation of recreational stores could change the calculus for young people. 

A 2021 article in the Journal of Cannabis Research that studied the association between the density of recreational cannabis outlets in Los Angeles and young adults’ intentions to use cannabis found that additional prevention efforts targeting those aged between 18 and 23 who live near more cannabis outlets may be beneficial.

There’s another downside risk to the rapidly multiplying number of recreational cannabis stores in Maine – one that will ultimately lead to the trend’s undoing – market share becomes vanishingly small and extremely challenging to secure. “A market that’s saturated doesn’t mean the market isn’t strong,” one Portland store owner told the Press Herald in July.

Again, certain Canadian markets can act as a crystal ball for the boom-to-market correction journey; business leaders and politicos alike are now ringing the alarm about overbuilding and warn of a wave of closures and consolidation in the next 12-18 months. One Canadian market research firm puts the “optimal” ratio at one recreational store for every 7,500 Canadians. The figure is reportedly based on per-capita numbers of two leading American markets, Colorado and Oregon, five years after recreational legalization.

That math would give Maine a sum total of 178.5 stores (it gives Portland 8.8). According to the state’s Office of Cannabis Policy, there are currently 107 active stores and 132 pending approval.

We’re new to this game, and we’re still figuring out how to play it.

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