By: Patricia Rosi, CEO – Wellness Connection of Maine
There is a saying about New England’s unpredictable weather—“if you don’t like it, just wait a minute.” That concise statement applies appropriately to both Maine’s weather and its cannabis. Just as we begin to settle into normalcy in the creation of a legitimate, safe and profitable medical cannabis industry, we now embark on a brand new chapter – adult use legalization.
An Ever Evolving Legal Landscape of Marijuana in Maine
Although medical cannabis has been legal for patients since 1999, medical cannabis has been legally dispensed in Maine for less than seven years. As the industry matures, Maine celebrated remarkable milestones and accomplishments. Industry leaders successfully advocated for expanded access, lobbied for increased legislation, and partnered with lawmakers to write regulations that enhance safety and transparency. In 2014, Maine’s program was ranked No. 1 in the nation, thanks to the hard work of lawmakers and leaders. Cannabis has become a driving force in the state’s economy. The estimated $270 million industry by 2020 will officially surpass Maine’s beloved potato industry and challenge Maine’s other staple, the lobster.
Despite the successes, challenges remain to mitigate stigma, debunk myths, attract high quality talent, and educate Americans about what cannabis is and what it isn’t. Though we’ve come a long way, 7 years is not a lot of time to undo decades of misinformation. But there is no rest for the weary, and we must get back to work to create a successful adult-use program that mirrors our medical program.
Uncertainty for Marijuana Adult Use in Maine
Like the states before us, we navigate uncharted territories where confusion, lack of predictability, and a distorted notion of time prevails. The epitome of this chaos is the current Maine legalization implementation paradox. Maine lawmakers have clearly articulated a desire to ‘take their time to do it right’. Use, possession, and transport have been legal since January 30, 2017, but a state licensing moratorium until February 2018 prevents the creation of a legal supply channel to meet skyrocketing demand. The Maine Legislature and Governor’s Office must work together and with the industry to rapidly implement an effective and predictable adult use program before the illegal market takes too strong a hold.
The Adult Use Initiative and slow state implementation have also created a quandary for municipalities. While the Initiative granted municipalities full local control, many questions have municipalities charting their own navigation maps in advance. Some have issued moratoria to ban marijuana entirely, while others have proclaimed themselves ‘open for business’ and are actively extending invitations to all canna-businesses.
Maine Marijuana Businesses, Entrepreneurs, and Medical Providers
And last, but certainly not least, business operators, medical professionals, and entrepreneurs are wrestling with an equal amount of unpredictability. Doctors are uncertain whether they should continue to certify under the medical program. Qualified patients have questions about whether they still need a medical card. (They do in order to buy from dispensaries or caregivers, but not if they choose to grow their own.)
Entrepreneurs are beginning to unveil themselves and their products in hopes that when the rules are implemented, their venture will be legal. They are rolling the dice and betting on themselves, even opening “main street” retail locations under the guise of the medical program. With the high possibility of a regulated, set number of retail licenses to be issued in 2018, there is a frantic scramble to scoop up warehouses upon speculation. This frenzy leaves Maine with only two percent availability of warehouse real estate—a historic low.
Wellness Connection of Maine is not exempt from the uncertainty. We have dug in deeper and are clinging to what has made us successful: providing the highest quality, tested, Maine-grown cannabis to ill Mainers looking to get their lives back. That’s what we know and what we can control. Additionally, we have partnered with like-minded organizations, such as other Maine dispensaries and professional coalitions like Maine Professionals for Regulating of Marijuana who advocate for quality, safety and transparency. We regularly open our dispensaries to educate about this plant, the state’s cannabis program, and industry news as it develops. We continue to listen to our members and give back to our communities, as well as to fund and advocate for regulation that raises the bar for the industry and generates needed revenues for our state. Through experience, WCM understands that only an enforceable and taxable regulatory process will ensure a safe, transparent, successful cannabis industry. Because of this, we remain a tireless advocate for initiatives aimed to support that objective.
As comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “the road to success is always under construction.” Sure enough, the road is one to be long and dotted with surprising twists and unexpected turns. All we can do is lead by principles that have guided us to this point, continue to build upon our strong foundation, and weather whatever comes next.
 Arcview 2016