Four years after approving adult-use marijuana sales through a ballot measure, Maine residents expecting legal cannabis sales to begin this month will now have to wait until at least June.
News of the three-month delay comes courtesy of the latest state budget forecast. The committee behind the forecast revised the date when it expects to receive cannabis sales tax from mid-March to mid-June. So instead of projecting $2.2 million in marijuana sales tax revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, budget forecasters now expect this figure to be around $500,000.
This means that while legal weed sales in Maine are delayed, they still anticipate strong initial sales when they finally begin, with marijuana retailers expected to bring in $5 million in the first two weeks. Although compared to Illinois, which made $3.2 million on its first day of legal cannabis sales, Maine is still some way behind.
Following the voter-approved ballot in 2016, Maine’s path towards legal marijuana sales was slowed by then-Gov. Paul LePage. Gov. Janet Mills replaced him last year and she quickly moved to sign a bill that would establish a legal framework for cannabis sales.
Now, the reasons for yet more delays in the establishment of a legal adult-use cannabis market is mainly down to licensing and regulatory factors. Erik Gundersen, director of the state Office of Marijuana Policy, reported that his office had received almost 200 marijuana retailer applications, but only 80 were under serious consideration. Even if the state grants a license, the applicant must then seek local authorization. Depending on the municipality, this can take anywhere between two weeks and a year. Finally, after receiving local authorization, an applicant can then ask the Office of Marijuana Policy for a final active license.
The problem here though is that Maine will only issue these licenses once there is an operational testing lab in the state. In itself, such a lab requires licenses and certifications to administer the health, safety and potency requirements set by Maine state law. Gundersen revealed that four labs are under consideration at the moment, but only one is anywhere close to being fully licensed. That lab is Nelson Analytical, which is awaiting approval from Kennebunk municipality sometime in April before it is authorized to carry out tests. Gundersen expects the other three labs to be ready by the end of the summer.
Gundersen also revealed the state cannabis regulator’s intention to ensure there are enough licensed marijuana retailers before beginning legal sales, so as to avoid huge lines and empty shelves at one or two shops.
“[That] will allow product to go through the mandatory testing regime, go through the manufacturing process and allow retail stores to fully stock their shelves with a wide array of products,” he said. “Hopefully, [we’ll] get enough products into the system to withstand the first day, the first weekend, the first week of demand so we don’t have a shortage like we’ve seen in other states.”
Given that some municipalities may take a year to approve a license for marijuana retailers, attempting to coordinate all weed shops in Maine to open on the same day may well lead to yet more delays. And after four years of waiting, the patience of many Maine residents must be wearing thin.