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Maine voters approved a bill to legalize the recreational use, sale, and taxation of marijuana back in 2016. Sales began four years later, though many Maine towns still prohibit recreational sales today. Five years after legalization, how is the Maine cannabis industry holding up? We investigate. 

Maine has an interesting cannabis history. In 1975, it was the third state to decriminalize small amounts of the plant. In 1999, the citizens voted to legalize medical marijuana. A decade later, broader decriminalization made possession of 2.5 ounces of cannabis a civil infraction instead of criminal. In 2016, voters legalized recreational cannabis and, despite those in opposition demanding a recount, the law went into effect. 

Adults 21 and over can possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis at a time and consume it in private places. Adults can also cultivate up to three flowering plants, 12 immature, and unlimited seedlings. The state offers retail, cultivation, manufacturing, and testing licenses for cannabis businesses.

After the bill passed, it took about four years before Maine’s first recreational pot shops opened their doors. While starting sales in the middle of a global pandemic may have been daunting, the industry still managed to generate over $94,000 on its first day. 

Many Maine municipalities have opted out of the state’s recreational cannabis program. A September report said only about 10% of the towns in the state allow retail. But if the people want weed, they’ll drive a little further to get it. Today, the opt-in tracker shows that a few more municipalities have opted in, but there’s still a large divide. 

Limited access hasn’t stopped the state from profiting off of the legal industry. In November 2021, Maine amassed $8,359,846 in cannabis sales. For the whole of 2021, the state has earned over $72,000,000 in sales. Maine’s first full year, from October 2020 to October 2021, saw $58.8 million in sales

To put it in perspective, the first full year of retail in Massachusetts saw $393.7 million in gross sales. But Massachusetts has at least 5 million more residents than Maine. For a much smaller population, Maine’s sales were respectable. 

“It exceeded our expectations. We’re quite pleased with the way things have gone over the last 12 months,” Erik Gundersen, head of Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy told WMTW when sales first began. 

Noteworthy Maine cannabis brands 

Sales have only been going on for a little over a year now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of notable cannabis brands in Maine to keep an eye on. Here are two that caught our attention:

Theory Wellness 

Pioneer Intelligence placed Theory Wellness high on their list of hottest east coast cannabis brands and for good reason. The company has a vertically integrated operation in Massachusetts but also operates several dispensaries in Maine. You can find their stores in South Portland, Waterville, and Bangor. They offer a diverse line of quality full-spectrum CO2 cartridges, tinctures, flower, and edibles. 

Sweet Dirt 

Founded by a husband and wife in 2015, Sweet Dirt produces clean cannabis out of living soil. Their name comes from the blend of nutrients they use to produce the “sweetest soil” that keeps their plants healthy and strong. 

Sweet Dirt are one of a handful of growers to be Certified Clean Cannabis in accordance with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). They produce a variety of strains, topicals, tinctures, edibles, and more with their Certified Clean Cannabis flower. 

Organic cannabis in Maine 

The MOFGA is raising the bar for clean cannabis practices in Maine. Their Certified Clean Cannabis by MOFGA (MC3) program provides verification and certification of growing practices by Maine producers. Standards mirror components of the USDA National Organic Program, and certification serves as a voluntary marketing label to help customers feel confident in products. 

“Because cannabis is federally illegal, producers are not able to seek organic certification, even though they may be growing compliantly” Chris Grigsby,

the Director of MOFGA Certification Services told us. To solve this problem, MOFGA worked with caregivers to develop standards and move the program further. 

“We feel the need for our certification program is important, both in the medical and adult-use cannabis areas, to provide patients and consumers with the confidence that what they are consuming is grown to the highest standards. Without our certification, patients and users have to take the grower’s word for the types of growing practices used to produce.”

Grigsby also noted that Maine’s programs are looked at as a model for other states, particularly on the medical side. He called Maine a leader in the country which demonstrates how a program can balance the regulatory requirements and also provide affordable medicine to those in need. 

So while Maine may be raising the bar for growing practices, has the state done much on the side of social equity? 

Industry lagging in the social equity department 

For all the successes of the current Maine cannabis industry, there is room for improvement. For one, there is an obvious lack of social equity efforts. While states with legal cannabis have social equity programs in the works, many others are scrambling to catch up or have yet to make any progress. Maine is currently in the latter category, without any meaningful social equity program. 

It’s not all for a lack of trying. Maine is one of several states that have faced lawsuits against social equity programs on constitutional concerns. NPG LLC v. City of Portland argued that Maine’s cannabis licensing point system was discrimination against interstate commerce. The ruling brought any efforts of repairing harm from the war on drugs to a swift halt. A bill to expunge and a bill to seal cannabis conviction records both died in the legislature in 2019, leaving those most impacted by the war on drugs shut out of the newly legal industry. 

“We’re finding marijuana is now a business boom, people who have convictions are not able to partake in that boom because they were incarcerated,” Bruce King, a formerly incarcerated man and member of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, told Next City in an interview. “It’s pretty insane that we have something that is proven to be incredibly benign in comparison to alcohol or something of that nature and people’s lives are ruined.”

Looking ahead, the Maine cannabis industry has work to do. Many independent shop owners fear continued growth from out-of-state investors with deep pockets will run them out of business. Others with prior cannabis convictions are left out of the industry altogether. Will the industry eventually iron out its wrinkles and create a more equitable industry for all, or will it fall short of expectations? We’ll have to wait and see.