Maine's Recreational Marijuana Market Opens Friday. But Retailers Say It Will Take Time To Ramp Up

Oct 8, 2020

Maine’s retail marijuana market will finally open Friday. But some retailers are saying the celebrations might be a little muted.

Brandon Pollock is the chief executive of Theory Wellness, which operates a handful of dispensaries in Massachusetts and is set to open one near the Maine Mall in South Portland. He spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about some of the issues facing marijuana retailers ahead of Friday’s opening day.

Gratz: After the several years of delay going from voter approval to opening day, are you excited to finally be able to begin selling in a second state?

Pollock: Yes, we’re extremely excited. It’s really a historical moment to be one of the first cannabis retailers to open to adults 21 years of age and older in the state of Maine. Maine will be second to only Massachusetts as the first legal cannabis market on the East Coast for adult use.

There would appear to be plenty of pent-up demand. But what about supply?

Similar to many new markets supply is challenging. As we launch our sales on Friday, there is a transfer process in place where we can purchase some plant material from the medical caregiver market. But it is a little logistically complicated to do so. Cultivation facilities do need a couple more months to fully ramp up their operations. So I expect to the first couple months, there will be some limits on products, there may be some product categories that customers don’t have access to initially, but it’s only going to get better from here. And that’s kind of par for the course for a new market.

Do you feel any better positioned to address these concerns, since Theory isn’t actually just an independent shop opening for the first time?

I think part of it is training your staff, and we have experience with this in Massachusetts, to be patient and to explain to customers how this is just the beginning and things are only going to get better from here. We were able to use our experience operating in Massachusetts to mobilize our cultivation and manufacturing operation quickly and efficiently so that we will soon have a more wide variety of products that we can produce in house and not try to rely on the wholesale market for because it’s very difficult to operate a store when the supply chain is out of your control.

You said before that some of the startup issues with supply are perhaps to be expected with any kind of a new market. But I wonder, based on your experience in Massachusetts, did they do anything initially there that Maine perhaps failed to do in getting ready for this opening day?

One opportunity that Maine has, and it may require a legislative fix, would be to allow products to be transferred over from the medical market to the adult-use market. That is something we were able to do in Massachusetts, where if you had a finished cannabis flower or finished vaporizer cartridges that were in the medical system, those were able to be transferred over to adult use. And that was helpful to sort of head off some of the initial supply headwinds. All that being said, there’s just no way that you can all of a sudden turn on the adult-use market and have enough supply in place. People are already using cannabis, so there’s always gonna be a little bit of a catch up game there.

Supply scarcity also sometimes translates to higher prices. Can you give us any idea what Maine consumers might expect, initially at least?

I expect it’s going to vary widely by store. For our company, we’re trying to be as competitive as possible with the existing medical market, understanding that there’ll be a bit of a premium just because our products are tested at a laboratory, which is not required in the medical market, as well as have a higher tax rate built into the price.

Some experts say it takes about a year and a half for this type of market to stabilize. Would that be your guess for a place like Maine? Or is there any reason to think it’d be either quicker or longer here?

Yeah, I think it will take you know, 3-5 years at least for a market to stabilize. In Colorado, for example, we’re still seeing pretty dramatic price fluctuations, as well as record sales still, and they opened in 2014, I believe. So Massachusetts, we’re two years into it. We certainly have not stabilized whatsoever. And that market is continuing to be very supply light. So I think it’s going to take longer than 18 months for sure. But it’s a process that’s starting on Friday, and it’s only going to get better for customers from here on out.

This interview has been edited for clarity.