Jayson Whitmore, right, and Owen Keel chat as they work at SeaWeed Co. in Portland on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Buying cannabis in Maine this summer could be a lot more like buying alcohol, thanks to a new law expected to take effect in July that aims to reduce the stigma around the drug.

The shopping experience at cannabis retail stores still feels a little illicit. A customer’s ID is checked at the door, either by a security guard or by a camera outside the locked shop door. There are no samples allowed, so buyers have to make their best guess about which products to buy. They have to pay in cash and leave with their purchases wrapped in opaque packaging.

But with L.D. 40, sponsored by Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, all of that will to change. The legislation passed in both chambers and will become law without Gov. Janet Mills’ signature.

The 86-page legislation aims to more closely align the cannabis and alcohol industries and smooth out the shopping experience by eliminating at-the-door ID checks, allowing minors to enter with their parent or guardian, allowing samples (to be consumed off-premises) and eliminating the opaque packaging requirement.

Alex McMahan, who helped draft the legislation, said businesses have had to bar octogenarians from even entering the building because they didn’t have their driver’s license on hand or deny entry to a mother with a baby stroller because her baby isn’t 21 years old.

“It makes the whole shopping experience weird and odd,” said McMahan, the CEO of The Healing Community Medco and policy lead of the Maine Cannabis Industry Association. Identification still needs to be checked at the register, when a sale is made.


Eliminating the door check can also reduce overhead costs.

At SeaWeed Co., a recreational cannabis company which has locations in Portland and South Portland, business owners opted not to check IDs from a vestibule or behind a locked door, but rather hired a security guard. It makes the process feel slightly more inviting, said Kaspar Heinrici, director of business development. But it’s still not ideal and it’s an additional cost.

Lenora Hnatko, a supervisor at SeaWeed Co. in Portland, cashes a customer out on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Many people complain that adult-use cannabis is more expensive than product from the medical market, Heinrici said, but recreational businesses often have additional costs like security and testing and track-and-trace requirements that drive up costs.

“Remove some of the things and it will allow us to operate more like a typical business,” he said. “This will for sure make people feel more welcome to accessing cannabis.”

The bill also makes large changes from an operational and regulatory standpoint, cutting red tape and restrictions for recreational businesses. As written, the soon-to-be law streamlines the reapplication process, clarifies some ambiguity around advertising, lowers a set of hefty fees for violations and eliminates a requirement that employees undergo an annual federal background check.

“We’re showing the world that there’s another way to regulate cannabis,” McMahan said. “It doesn’t have to be that you treat the business operators as criminals. It doesn’t have to be regulated like you regulate plutonium.”


Some of the changes seem small, but McMahan believes they’ll have a big impact. Allowing samples can help expand access for people who may be curious about cannabis but don’t want to pull the trigger on a full package. The change in packaging requirement – which he said currently “reeks of stigma” – will help reduce waste. And the changes on the business side will allow business owners to put more energy and resources into improving their stores.

“They’ll notice a more general raising of the bar. It’ll be good for everybody,” he said.

Owen Keel helps two customers as they choose products at SeaWeed Co. in Portland on April 30. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The measure that was first introduced was panned by state, public health and law enforcement officials, who said they were left out of the drafting process.

An early draft of the bill would have banned police from entering cannabis businesses, except under specific circumstances or with a warrant, but that provision was removed after pushback from law enforcement.

The original bill also would have allowed teenagers as young as 17 to work in cannabis establishments, another attempt to bring the industry in line with businesses that sell alcohol. But this was met with outcry from public health and state officials, who said it would appear to endorse recreational cannabis use by children.

The amended bill follows current law, which says industry employees must be at least 21 to work in the industry.

Stakeholders worked extensively to amend the bill to a final version that all sides could agree on.

McMahan believes the industry and the Office of Cannabis Policy may have a better relationship following the collaborative process.

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