Entrepreneurs and other businesspeople are glad lawmakers voted Wednesday to push forward a legal retail market for marijuana in Maine, but they concede there’s still a long road before retail sales are reality.
And some worry that legislative delays have cost Maine a competitive advantage in the emerging industry, especially as Massachusetts readies to launch its adult-use market this summer.
Jacques Santucci, who founded the medical marijuana dispensary business Wellness Connection, said the delays in setting out regulations for recreational markets have cost Maine the advantage it had by having an established medical marijuana system in place.
“Finally Maine is catching up to the other states in New England,” he said of the vote to overturn a veto by Gov. Paul LePage that would have derailed the market for a second time. “Maine was ahead four or five years ago.”
Santucci believes some people who were interested in setting up businesses here moved south to Massachusetts, which will offer a larger retail marijuana market when sales begin in July. Massachusetts anticipates sales of $1 billion in sales by 2020.
Legal weed is big business. Worldwide, it is expected to hit $57 billion by 2027, according to Arcview and BDS Analytics, a global consultancy. The recreational market is expected to account for 67 percent of that spending with medical marijuana making up the remaining third.
Another analytics firm, New Frontier Group, estimates the U.S. adult-use cannabis market was worth $8.3 billion in 2017 with another $5.1 billion coming from the medical marijuana market.
Both are expected to grow by double digits, reaching $25 billion by 2025 for adult-use marijuana and $12.5 billion for medical pot.
Maine’s new law must go through months of rule-making in Augusta before anyone can ring up a legal retail sale.
Tom Mourmouras, whose Fiscal Therapy Financial works primarily with marijuana growers, thinks it will likely be early next year before his clients get even temporary licenses to begin growing for the retail market. Most now supply medical marijuana dispensaries, he said, which are largely exempt from local controls.
The legislation adopted Wednesday will give towns and cities more say over growing operations. But the months of rule-making at least will give the people who run those operations time to work out details, such as zoning rules, with local officials, as well as an opportunity to polish business plans and nail down finances with some assurance that the retail market is on the road to reality, Mourmouras said.
He added that the LePage administration, which has opposed retail marijuana sales, will not move quickly to adopt the rules and set up the infrastructure to regulate the market. That likely will fall to the new governor elected in November, he said.
Santucci concurs that the bill adopted Wednesday provides some clarity over local control of growing operations. It also establishes a tax system and will provide structure for the market, he said. He already has developed a startup company to provide software for tracking the stages of plant development, a quality control measure that is required in the new law.
But it would have been better if Maine acted right after the voters approved adult sale and use of marijuana in 2016, he said.
“Maine was a hub with the (medical) cannabis business and now it’s the opposite,” Santucci said. State regulators and businesses need to move quickly to try to make up the lost ground, he said.