Federal judge wants out-of-state cannabis businesses to gain equal retail licensing treatment in Maine

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Maine has been pushing forward with its nascent recreational cannabis market, which ignited into its developmental phase after a law was passed in November 2016. However, goals of prioritizing recreational cannabis company owners for business licenses in Portland have been dashed and divided. 

A participating business, Wellness Connection of Maine, was victorious during a court hearing on Friday, August 14. It was on this date that a U.S. District Court judge agreed with the company’s argument that a retail use certification system adopted by the city is “discriminatory” and “unconstitutional”. 

Based on their argument which was initially filed in June Wellness Connection says that Maine “cannapreneurs” were given priority over out-of-staters. The plaintiffs, which form a group of staff responsible for operating dispensaries sprinkled around Portland, Brewer, Gardiner and South Portland, took their battle to court alongside Delaware investor High Street Capital Partners

According to the U.S. District Judge Nancy Torreson’s ruling, Wellness Connection faces a “sufficient threat” when applying for one of the limited and highly sought-after retail use licenses. Despite the fact that Wellness has not been turned down for a dispensary license just yet, an excerpt from the court documents states that “their alleged injury is not the denial itself but the disadvantage they face in obtaining a license due to the city’s points matrix.”

Non-resident cannabis business ownership in Maine discriminated against, say store owners 

The eligibility criteria for a cannabis retail license in Maine is described as a “points matrix”. Failure to meet the criteria means that operations are rejected; particularly those with non-resident ownership, argued Wellness Connection. Based on their court filing, the city council violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits excessive limitations for commercial regulations among states.

“Residency is not an absolute bar but instead one of many factors determining who is awarded retail use licenses,” read the city of Portland’s court documents. Those words were said after an attorney bit back at Wellness’ arguing case; the lawyer stated that Wellness would need to stumble at numerous other hurdles for it to be refused a license and therefore their argument was not strong enough.

Following the successful signature-gathering initiative by state citizens in August, a referendum question to eradicate the city’s 20 retail business cap will be featured on Portland’s municipal ballot this November.

Maine cannabis business lawsuit similar to March lawsuit

The most recent Maine cannabis business lawsuit has been likened to a lawsuit that was filed and dropped back in March. Lawmakers chose to dismiss the lawsuit after the state confirmed that its residency requirement would not be enforced. Dispensary chain Wellness has already garnered major success in the state’s medical cannabis market and looks set to become a dominant player in Maine’s adult-use sector.

Thanks to the most recent lawsuit, ongoing disagreements between state and local governments which stem from the voter-approved recreational cannabis ballot initiative of 2016 could soon dissipate. Finally, following a tedious wait that stretched over four years, retail sales of adult-use cannabis in Maine are gearing up for launch on October 9. Adult-use and manufacturing license distribution will commence in September.