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A Long Road: Weed Goes on Sale Years after Approval in Maine

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine  — Mainers are getting their first opportunity to legally buy marijuana for adult recreational use, but a supply shortage is a potential buzzkill.

Retailers blame the pandemic and a limited number of licensed manufacturers for reducing the variety of products available on Friday, the opening day. Licenses were issued only a month ago.

That didn't dampen Matt Bourgeois' enthusiasm for hitting two newly opening cannabis shops in South Portland.

"It's the history that I'm excited about," said Bourgeois, 40, of Hampton, New Hampshire, who wasn't worried about limited products. "I'd like to take part in the historic moment. It's important to me."

Maine's road to becoming the 10th state allowing the retail sale of marijuana for recreational use was exceptionally arduous.

A referendum was approved nearly four years ago, in November 2016, but the effort to set up a method for legally purchasing cannabis dragged on through two vetoes by the governor, two legislative rewrites, and a change in administrations.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic that created further delays as the state determined how to safely open stores.

Under state law, marijuana growers and product suppliers have to be licensed, and the products have to be certified by a state-licensed lab. For now, there are only a handful of manufacturers, and one laboratory.

And there are only seven stores at present, though the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy will be licensing more in coming months.

That's a bit of a disappointment for advocates. But it's better than nothing and it represents a starting point, said David Boyer, an independent marijuana industry consultant in Maine.

"To the state's credit, there's something to be said for planting a flag and breaking the ice and starting sales for thousands of adults who don't have access for one reason or another. It's a big day," he said.

State law allows each customer to buy up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, enough to roll more than 100 joints. Included within that limit, they may also purchase 5 grams of concentrate.

Many retailers, however, plan to limit customers to smaller amounts to stretch their supply, although many still expect to sell out quickly.

Co-founder Brandon Pollock from Theory Wellness, which has cannabis stores in South Portland and Waterville, agreed that supply is going to be limited but said he's pleased that vendors are out of the "purgatory" of years and years of waiting for this day to come.

"It's only going to get better from here. We should all appreciate that we have a legal access point, and we're doing the best we can to get as much products on the shelves as quickly as possible," he said.

For the time being, Maine's medical marijuana market will be better stocked with edibles and other products. The state's medical marijuana caregivers and eight dispensaries accounted for more than $111 million in sales last year.

All told, more than 87,000 Mainers already hold medical marijuana cards, allowing them to make legal purchases.

Maine becomes the second state in New England with stores selling marijuana. The first stores opened in Massachusetts in March.

Retail sales could start in Vermont in two years after the governor announced this week that he'd let a bill setting up a system for the sale of cannabis become law without his signature.

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