Launch of recreational cannabis sales delayed in Maine due to coronavirus

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

In 2016, voters approved a measure to legalize adult-use cannabis in Maine. Although it has been four years since the plant was legalized for recreational purposes statewide, the state has taken longer to kick-start its legal market than any other cannabis-friendly state in the U.S. 

Just as the industry was finally about to take off, Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) declared that the rollout of legal weed sales would be halted temporarily “due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Postponing retail sales is a massive hit for the industry and its prospective consumers, most of whom were prepared to queue up outside dispensaries when doors were initially set to open this coming June. Unfortunately, customers and retailers will need to wait longer before cash can be legally exchanged for bud.

“Just one month ago, as we announced the issuance of Maine’s first conditional licenses for adult use [cannabis] establishments, few would have envisioned the effects the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) would have on the daily lives of Mainers. However, it now appears as though a spring launch of Maine’s adult use industry is simply unrealistic,” wrote the OMP Director Erik Gundersen in a letter addressed to licensees. 

OMP awards adult-use cannabis licenses, despite COVID-19

Even though consumers are none the wiser in regards to when adult-use cannabis sales in Maine will finally begin, the process of distributing licenses among hopeful applicants has not come to a complete halt; not just yet, anyway. The Office recently awarded 70 conditional licenses for the sale, manufacturing and cultivation of cannabis/cannabis products.

Notwithstanding the issuing of adult-use cannabis licenses in Maine, there is no update on the new date for retail sales to commence. Gunderson emphasized the difficulty in predicting a specific date for the industry’s launch, due to the fact that the “social distancing” rules could change and/or be extended as time progresses. 

“We are simply unable to provide any concrete timelines in these uncertain times. We cannot tell you with any level of certainty when towns will be able to take action to ensure there will be adequate testing to meet the needs of the program, and we certainly cannot set a definitive retail sales launch date amidst a public health pandemic,” he told stakeholders.

Coronavirus and former governor to blame for delayed adult-use cannabis sales in Maine 

Cannabis consumers in Maine are sure to feel frustrated at the lack of legal access to plant-based products. Delays in accessing adult-use cannabis stem from the ballot box approval of Maine’s legal weed measure back in November 2016. At this point in time, Governor Paul LePage was on a bill-vetoing rampage; he discarded numerous bills that would have established the regulatory framework for cannabis sales and taxes.

According to Gundersen, such a colossal amount of language was rewritten – inclusive of two legislative rewrites – that the industry started off on a “blank slate.” Thankfully, things progressed in leaps and bounds when Governor Janet Mills assumed her role in-office. In June 2019, she signed into law LD 719 — An Act Regarding Adult Use Marijuana

Once the rules regarding buying, selling and growing cannabis had been drawn up by Gov. Mills and enacted in the following September, Maine’s cannabis industry was ready to go; then came coronavirus. Gunderson remains optimistic that this year will not be a total failure for the state’s legal program. The OMP director has reassured licensees that their future in the industry is certain and that it’s just a matter of being patient.

“We appreciate your understanding during this most difficult time for our state and nation, and we look forward to working with you over the coming months to roll-out Maine’s adult use [cannabis] program,” concluded Gundersen in his letter.