Nearly four years after Maine voters approved adult-use cannabis sales through a ballot measure, the state’s marijuana industry regulator announced licensed dispensaries can open for business on October 9.

Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) said it will issue the first round of recreational marijuana business licenses on September 8. These will include licenses for testing labs, grow sites, processing plants and retail stores. Upon receipt of a license, marijuana businesses across Maine will have a month to get finished products onto dispensary shelves for the first day of legal adult-use cannabis sales.

OMP officials expected retail sales to start in April but this wasn’t possible because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The public’s health and safety are at the forefront of every decision we make,” OMP Director Erik Gundersen said in a press statement. “While we were poised to launch this new industry earlier this year, we were unwilling to sacrifice the high standards we have set for this program by launching during an emerging public health pandemic and in the absence of a testing facility.”

This wasn’t, however, the first delay to Maine’s legal cannabis market. Progress towards operational cannabis dispensaries in Maine has been slow compared to other states – such as California, Massachusetts and Nevada – which approved marijuana legalization on the same day in 2016. Indeed, no state which has legalized cannabis has taken longer than Maine to implement a legal marijuana market.

“Mainers have been waiting nearly four years for access to legal cannabis,” said David Boyer, former state chapter director of Marijuana Policy Project. “October’s launch date is something to celebrate, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”

The long delay is partly due to former Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s opposition to the measure. LePage vetoed legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana, but this was later overturned by the state legislature. Le Page was replaced by current Gov. Janet Mills in 2018 who quickly moved to sign a bill into law establishing a legal framework for cannabis sales in Maine. Nonetheless, more delays followed owing to licensing and regulatory issues.

It’s unclear just how many licenses will be issued in the first round. So far, 194 licenses covering testing, cultivation, manufacturing, and retail sales have been conditionally issued, of which 33 have also been granted local authorization to operate. According to industry requirements laid out by the OMP, those 33 licenses move to the third and final stage whereby Maine’s cannabis industry regulator determines whether the application meets safety criteria and complies with state law. State officials hope the new legal cannabis industry will aid Maine’s post-pandemic economic recovery. Marijuana Business Daily projects that the market will bring in around $300 million a year in sales by 2024, while a research firm predicts the measure will create around 6,100 jobs.

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