About four years after Mainers voted to legalize recreational marijuana, the state took another step toward a more robust cannabis economy into reality.
Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy put stamps on years of work by lawmakers and the cannabis industry with its first fully approved licenses for recreational marijuana: three for cultivation, one for a testing facility and two for stores.
Theory Wellness, a medical and recreational marijuana company with a footprint spanning Massachusetts from Great Barrington to Bridgewater, is saying it's excited to make good on year or more of investments in Maine.
“We’ve been renting out our space in South Portland for probably about 18 months at this point,” said Brandon Pollock, the company’s CEO.
He said it has plans to open a retail cannabis store near the Maine Mall in the coming weeks and was among the first half dozen approvals issued Tuesday.
“The fact that we’re one of the first is a true honor and responsibility that we take very seriously,” he said.
Asked about the time it took from referendum to licensed businesses, Erik Gundersen, the director of the Office of Marijuana Policy, said a number of factors came into play, from political to the pandemic.
“When I get asked this question, there are two histories. There’s the history before the Office of Marijuana Policy, which has multiple governor’s vetoes and legislative rewrites. I like talking more about after the Office of Marijuana Policy,” said Gundersen.
He explained that the part of agency he oversees was created in last February and has since been building up to the point of issuing licenses.
“We were really given a blank slate and we worked really diligently to get to where we are today,” he said, adding that the first certifications of businesses would have been issued back in spring but COVID-19 slowed down those plans.
The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy says it has 300 applicants for recreational marijuana licenses in its pipeline already.
While those will be issued on a rolling basis from now on, actual sales of recreational marijuana in Maine are not set to begin until Oct. 9.
Pollock said the vision for Theory Wellness' South Portland location is to offer a similar store experience to other locations in the company, with sales associates helping would-be consumers make personalized purchases.
Pollock also said the company is working on a Waterville, Maine, location that will incorporate production as well.
Although the process of getting to this point in Maine was “lengthy,” Pollock said, it was also very “streamlined” and transparent.
He believes that the market in Maine for retail cannabis will be strong and enough businesses in the sector will be opening soon that they will not make news after a while.
“We think, in a couple years, when a new stores opens up, it won’t even be that newsworthy," he said, "very akin to package stores or breweries.”