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1st Summer Season Of Cannabis Sales Expected To Buoy Maine’s Tourism Recovery

A salesperson answers questions at Theory Wellness, a cannabis retail store, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in South Portland, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
A salesperson answers questions at Theory Wellness, a cannabis retail store, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in South Portland, Maine.

Maine’s summer tourism season has a new attraction this year with the first year of legal recreational marijuana sales expected to bring more people to the state, following trends in Colorado and California.

A major marijuana retailer in Maine told a HospitalityMaine seminar Thursday that he expects Maine to see a tourism boost, with some visitors coming strictly on a marijuana vacation.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in interest about coming to Maine to try cannabis after we legalized it,” said Charlie Langston, managing director of Wellness Connection, which has a cultivation facility, extraction laboratory and two adult-use storefronts and two medical ones in Maine. “We get calls all the time from people planning vacations, wondering about how they can get cannabis when they’re here.”

Maine could follow in the footsteps of Colorado, which saw a 51 percent cannabis tourism boost after it legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, the first U.S. state to do so. Cannabis tourists there tend to spend $161 more per visit there than other visitors, Langston said.

About half of tourists wanted to try marijuana in Colorado and a quarter came specifically for cannabis, according to that state’s office of tourism. Revenue from both retail and medical marijuana rose to $2.2 billion in 2020, the most lucrative sales year since the state legalized recreational marijuana, according to Colorado Department of Revenue data.

Maine is seeing its own sharp sales increases. Legalized by voters in 2016, the first retail sales for adult-use marijuana started last October with six licensed stores, which has grown to 34 retailers who had record sales of $5.36 million in May, up $1 million from the month before, according to the state Office of Marijuana Policy.

Those numbers could breathe new life into Maine’s hospitality industry, which was hard hit during the pandemic. Langston and others said the relaxation benefits of the drug are an important draw for visitors after a tough pandemic year.

“The wellness aspect of recreational marijuana is a new evolution in Maine tourism that could help some in the hospitality industry,” Matt Lewis, CEO of HospitalityMaine, said.

But it is still unclear how to integrate marijuana tourism with a traditional hotel experience, said Phil Kronenthal, managing partner of Migis Lodge Hotel Group, which has six properties in Maine and one in Massachusetts.

One challenge is where people could smoke on properties like Migis, which doesn’t allow smoking, although it would be possible to consume cannabis in other ways. Still, he thinks marijuana will boost tourism in the state.

“When people come to Maine to access it, they need to eat out and stay in hotels, so it’s just like when they come here to find antiques or scenic lighthouses,” he said.

While recreational cannabis is legal, Lewis cautioned it comes with a host of issues, and responsible promotion of marijuana is critical for businesses.

Langston said businesses need to be creative to legally engage in cannabis tourism such as offering private dinner parties where guests bring their own weed, creating a CBD-infused room service menu or spa treatment and offering cannabis tours. Businesses have to be careful not to sell the drug. They also need to watch where it is consumed, because Maine law doesn’t allow consumption lounges or use in public places.

“Businesses need to be clear and concise about their position on cannabis,” Langston said. “They need to educate their front-line workers on the laws and how to make recommendations.”

This article appears through a media partnership with the Bangor Daily News.