Adult-use cannabis rules finalized; launch of retail sales delayed by COVID-19
Last update: April 13, 2020
In April 2020, Maine regulators announced that retail sales will not begin in June as planned because the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed local approvals and created other challenges for the state. In a letter to stakeholders, the chief regulator wrote that the Office of Marijuana Policy is pressing forward on all fronts but “unable to provide any concrete timelines.”
Maine voters passed the legalization initiative in November 2016, along with three other states — California, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Unfortunately, Maine is the last of those states to launch adult-use sales.
The rules for adult use cannabis businesses were adopted in June 2019. They are available here.
Additionally, Maine municipalities must opt in to the adult-use program by locally allowing for marijuana establishments. Towns may opt in by a vote of the town council or at the ballot box by voters. If your municipality does not yet allow sales, please reach out to your local leaders and ask that they allow for cannabis businesses in your town.
In April 2018, the Maine Legislature passed LD 1719, which established the regulatory framework for cannabis sales in Maine. Gov. LePage vetoed the bill, but his veto was overridden in early May 2018.
LD 1719 made a handful of significant changes from the law voters passed in 2016. It removed social club licensing from the law, which means that adults will no longer have a legal place to consume marijuana other than private residences. Additionally, it lowered the number of flowering plants that adults can grow at home, from six to three.
In early July 2018, the Maine Legislature overrode then-Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes of LD 238 and LD 1539, bills to improve Maine’s medical marijuana program. LD 238 allows for third-party extraction of medical marijuana. LD 1539 is the culmination of the Health and Human Services Committee’s session-long work reforming the medical marijuana program. The bipartisan omnibus reform bill, which went into effect on December 13, 2018:
removed the qualifying condition list so that any Mainer can use medical marijuana so long as their doctor thinks it would be helpful for them;
eliminated the requirement that a patient must designate a caregiver or dispensary as their sole provider, allowing for more patient choice; and
added two more dispensaries to the existing eight dispensaries and removes the cap on the dispensaries after January 1, 2021.
Possession of small amounts and limited home cultivation are legal: Possession of two and a half ounces or less of marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older. Adults may not possess more than five grams of marijuana concentrate. Adults may also cultivate up to three mature marijuana plants at their residence or on another adult’s property with the owner’s permission.
Retail marijuana stores are expected to become operational in 2020: With commercial marijuana regulations in place, it's up to the state to follow through with implementation.
Medical marijuana permitted: An individual may now qualify for medical marijuana with any condition if his or her doctor believes medical marijuana will be helpful. Patients can purchase marijuana from registered marijuana dispensaries, a registered caregiver, or grow their own.
Historic victory in 2016: The Yes on 1 Campaign
The Marijuana Policy Project has been involved in crafting sensible marijuana policies in Maine since 2009. MPP helped draft and finance the 2009 ballot initiative that improved and expanded Maine’s medical marijuana program. In 2013 and 2014, we ran winning campaigns in Portland and South Portland to make small amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 and over. These initiatives paved the way for a 2016 statewide initiative to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.
To lay the groundwork for statewide legalization, MPP hired David Boyer in January 2013. The local initiatives in 2013 and 2014 generated enormous earned media and allowed the campaign to educate voters about marijuana. We promoted the idea that marijuana prohibition has been a total failure, and it is illogical to punish an adult for using a substance safer than alcohol.
Beginning in 2015, MPP formed a roundtable of advocates, members of the cannabis industry, lawyers, and lawmakers to draft the statewide initiative to legalize marijuana for adults in Maine, “An Act to Regulate and Tax Marijuana.” Another group, Legalize Maine, also launched a ballot initiative campaign, and both groups began collecting signatures in spring 2015. Urged by advocates and campaign volunteers on both sides, the two groups came to an agreement to work together: MPP would run the campaign using Legalize Maine’s initiative language.
With the campaigns united, over 100,000 signatures were submitted to the Maine Secretary of State’s office on February 1, 2016. The campaign received bad news a month later when the Secretary of State’s office announced it did not qualify for the November ballot. The state disqualified almost 30,000 signatures because a notary’s signature did not exactly match the notary’s signature on file — a handwriting technicality.
The campaign immediately announced its intention to appeal the decision and filed a lawsuit in March 2016. After making the case to the court, the judge ruled in favor and ordered the Secretary of State to re-review the signatures. In late April, the state announced that our campaign did collect enough signatures, and we qualified for the ballot! In Maine, ballot question order is random, and our campaign was lucky enough to win the coveted first question, thus becoming “Yes on 1: Regulate & Tax Marijuana.”
The campaign aired several different television ads. One of the most memorable ads featured former Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion voicing his support of Question 1. Ending marijuana prohibition to free up law enforcement resources was a central message of the campaign. Another key message was the millions in tax revenue that could be generated by taxing and regulation marijuana. And, there was an ad focused on pro-legalization Mainers who had been misled about the details of the initiative.
MPP’s Matthew Schweich and David Boyer managed the Yes on 1 Campaign. The Portland Press Herald, the ACLU of Maine, NORML, and numerous elected officials across Maine endorsed it. The campaign was a combination of effective TV and online advertising bolstered by on-the-ground campaigning. Volunteers across the state made phone calls, went door-to-door, and submitted letters-to-the editor in support of Question 1.
Question 1 turned out to be a real nail-biter, passing with 50.26% of the vote. Opponents went on to request a recount, which took place for two weeks in December. Ultimately, the Maine Secretary of State certificated Question 1’s victory by a margin of 3,995 votes — truly, every vote counts.
Timeline of marijuana policy reform in Maine
1976 –Maine’s legislature decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.
1999 – Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana for patients suffering from serious health issues.
2009 – Voters approved a ballot initiative expanding the state's existing medical marijuana program.
2013 –Portland voters approved a local initiative legalizing small amounts of marijuana.
2014 – South Portland voters approved a local initiative legalizing small amounts of marijuana.
2016 – Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for adults and establishing a regulated marijuana market like alcohol.