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Maine's First Recreational Marijuana Businesses Could Open This Spring

Robert F. Bukaty

Maine officials have deemed dozens of applications to run marijuana businesses to be complete, a major step on the way to the first legal sales of the drug for recreational adult use.

Mainers voted in favor of legal recreational marijuana use and sales in 2016, and the state is in the process of approving licenses for the first businesses. The state began the process of deeming more than 70 applications complete in late January, said David Heidrich, spokesman for the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.

The office will next review the applications and issue conditional approval, after which the facility owners will need to seek local approval from their city or town, Heidrich said. The businesses include 43 stores, 25 cultivation facilities and 10 manufacturing facilities, he said.

The timing of the approval process likely means businesses will open in spring, Heidrich said.

“That’s what we’ve been striving toward since fulfilling our commitment to make applications available by the end of 2019, and we remain on pace to meet that target,” he said.

The number of businesses applying to open in the state has also been climbing. The state has received 81 applications to open marijuana stores, 64 to open cultivation facilities and 24 to open manufacturing businesses.

That is more than twice the total number of applications the state had received by the middle of December. The state is also seeking applications from testing facilities and expects to receive one or two in February, Heidrich said.

Applicants who receive state and local approval will need to circle back to the state to obtain an active license.

Maine has a longstanding medical marijuana program, and different people who work in that industry have been approaching recreational legalization as either a concern or an opportunity.

Cliff Miller, chief executive officer of Auburn medical marijuana grower Atlantic Cannabis Collective, said he received notice the state has deemed complete his application to transition to an adult use business.

If all goes well, Miller will transition his medical growing operation to 20,000 square feet of cultivation for the new recreational market. He’s curious to see how that market develops.

“We don’t have a lot of historical data as a market to look at what has happened here, what happened there,” Miller said. “But we do have a lot of states that literally, day one, had a supply and demand issue.”

Catherine Lewis, president of the board for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said she and others hope medical marijuana patients will continue their relationships with care providers when retail sales become legal.

“We are explaining to patients, we think they should keep their medical cards,” Lewis said.