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Business and Economy

On Maine's First Day Of Recreational Marijuana Sales, Excitement High But Low Supply

Murray Carpenter
For Maine Public
Owner John Lorenz shows off pre-rolled joints under the glass display case at Sweet Relief in Northport on Friday, its first day of business.

It has been four years since Maine voters approved recreational, adult-use marijuana sales, and the first few stores finally opened Friday.

John Lorenz secured one of the first, coveted retail licenses for his store, Sweet Relief on Route 1 in Northport. But opening day brought a challenge — a scarcity of weed.

When Lorenz opened his doors shortly after 10 a.m., Zak Hollingshead was the first customer in the door.

“He had two products for sale — he had a mint sherbet pre-rolled joint, and then also a gorilla glue #4 pre-rolled joint,” he said. “I wanted to do my best to support locally, so I bought the limit and I bought three of each.”

Hollingshead is a Northport selectman who has spent many hours in the last two years working with town residents, and Lorenz, to develop a local ordinance to allow the sales.

Credit Murray Carpenter / For Maine Public
Zak Hollingshead outside Sweet Relief in Northport, with a handful of merchandise.

“It’s been a long time coming. I made the taxpayers two promises when I ran for the select board: to lower their municipal taxes, and bring legal marijuana to Northport.” he said.

Lorenz had been dreaming of this day for a long time. Last year, when state officials accepted applications for retail licenses, he was the first person in line in Augusta.

Sweet Relief was one of only eight retailers licensed by Friday. Inside the store, over a glass display case filled with pre-rolled joints, he described the businesses he runs with his wife.

“This is a two-man band,” Lorenz said. “We’ve got a medical marijuana farm, a medical marijuana store, in a separate building next door, and we have now an adult-use marijuana store. I have a conditional grow permit, and I am probably going to finish that up, to be able to have a small grow and secure some items for ourselves.”

Credit Murray Carpenter / For Maine Public
Zak Hollingshead's Sweet Relief purchase: four pre-rolled joints. He bought the per-customer limit of six.

But there was a hitch on this first day — retailers can only get their marijuana from a handful of state-certified growers, and most growers got regulatory approval too late to produce a crop by Friday. Lorenz is prohibited by law from using his medical marijuana products in his retail store. So, like other retailers, he was scrambling for supplies.

Lorenz said he got a hand from another prospective marijuana retailer, Cannabis Cured.

“Whose store permit has not come through yet, but their grow permit did. I called them to see if they would be willing to send me anything, and he brought 230 pre-rolls,” he said.

Lorenz set a limit of six joints per person, at $15 apiece. Unlike the chaotic crowd scenes when legal marijuana sales began in Massachusetts, there was a slow, steady stream of customers at Sweet Relief, all of whom had to show IDs to prove they were 21.

Credit Murray Carpenter / For Maine Public
Sweet Relief in Northport.

“I heard a little buzz around town that recreational cannabis was being sold here at Sweet Relief, and so I thought I’d give it a shot, and see what they had to offer,” said Nick Roberts of Belfast.

Roberts bought four joints from the store’s dwindling supply, which Lorenz said was completely exhausted by late afternoon. Lorenz called it a slow rollout, and said he thinks retail sales in Maine should be hitting their stride by next summer, when there will be more supplies, and more cannabis stores.