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Maine’s retail marijuana initiative has passed. What does this mean for patients, caregivers, and t

After a contentious campaign, Question 1, Maine’s initiative to legalize retail marijuana, has passed by a narrow margin. Maine joins the seven other states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia in making retail cannabis available to adults.

While the law’s general principle – allowing for the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis by adults 21 and older – may seem simple, the ways in which the new law will affect both the public and Maine’s medical marijuana industry are complex.

This article will summarize some of the most important details of Maine’s legalization law that are currently known.

1) Estimated Timeline

The initiative may have passed, but this doesn’t mean adults can grow, use, and buy cannabis immediately. Mainers can't legally grow or use their own recreational cannabis until sometime this December, 30 days after the governor proclaims the law's passage, and the earliest Mainers are likely to be able to buy cannabis in a retail store is in early to mid-2018.

Here is an estimate of how and when the various aspects of legalization might roll out:

November 2016 – Governor Paul LePage proclaims the initiative to be law. Assuming no recount, or a refusal by the governor to act, the governor will proclaim the initiative to have passed, likely sometime this month. However, the law doesn't take effect, and adults cannot legally grow or possess recreational marijuana, for another 30 days after the proclamation.

December 2016 – Legalization becomes effective. Thirty days after the governor's proclamation (the "effective date"), the law will take effect – unless it's determined there isn't enough state funding or the initiative doesn’t identify a sufficient funding source; in that case the law will take effect 45 days after the start of the next legislative session after funds are allocated, that is sometime between roughly February and March 2017. However, it will most likely take effect sometime in December 2016, 30 days after the governor's proclamation.

  • Upon the law's effective date, individuals will be permitted to possess, use, grow, and transfer cannabis for personal use. However, it may take up to a year or longer for Maine to begin licensing retail cannabis establishments.

Between January 2016 and July 2017 – The legislature makes the initiative part of Maine’s statutes. The initiative Mainers voted on will be passed into Maine's statutes by the legislature during the next legislative session in 2017, probably with a few tweaks.

September 2017 – The state passes rules governing the retail marijuana program and facilities. Within 9 months of the initiative's effective date, the regulatory agency (the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry) is required to pass detailed rules that put the broader, more general initiative into practice. It will need to hold public hearings and accept public comments on the proposed rules.

October 2017 – The state begins to accept applications for retail marijuana facility licenses. Within 30 days after it puts rules into effect, the Department of Agriculture will begin to accept applications for the five types of retail facility licenses (more on this below). If after 90 days the priority applications received do not max out the 800,000 square-foot statewide canopy limit for cultivation licenses, the Department will accept more applications until the cap is reached.

January 2018 to April 2018 – The state issues the first licenses for retail marijuana facilities. Within 90 days of approving a retail facility license application from a qualified applicant, the Department must issue a license. If multiple applicants compete for a spot in a municipality that has limited the number of licenses, the Department has 180 days to consult the municipality and issue the contested license to the preferred applicant.

Thus, while adults will probably be able to use, grow, and transfer cannabis and plants as early as next month, the earliest Mainers are likely to be able to buy cannabis in a retail store is in early to mid-2018.

Of course, the actual timeline could vary based on the rate at which the regulatory process moves forward in reality.

2) Personal Cultivation and Use

Upon the initiative's effective date, likely in December 2016, Mainers over 21 will be permitted to possess, transfer, and grow cannabis for personal use. Here are the specifics on what will be permitted:

People 21 or older may:

A. Possess, transport, and use up to 2.5 ounces of prepared cannabis in non-public places. Cannabis is still not permitted on federal property, or where otherwise prohibited;

B. Transfer (without compensation) up to 2.5 ounces of prepared cannabis and 6 immature plants or seedlings to another adult over 21;

C. Cultivate up to 6 flowering plants, 12 immature plants, and unlimited seedlings. The plants must each be marked with a tag bearing the owner’s name and Maine driver’s license or state ID number; D. Possess all the cannabis harvested from the plants at the adult's residence; E. Purchase up to 2.5 ounces of retail marijuana and marijuana accessories from a retail marijuana store (when such stores open); and F. Purchase up to 12 seedlings or immature plants from a retail marijuana cultivation facility (when those facilities are established).

3) Different Types of Retail Marijuana Facilities

The legalization law provides for five different types of retail marijuana facilities. The following types of retail establishments will begin to appear after licenses are finally issued, probably in early to mid-2018:

A. Retail marijuana store

  • Can sell retail marijuana, retail marijuana products, and related accessories, gear, and apparel directly to customers at least 21 years of age.

B. Retail marijuana cultivation facility

  • Can cultivate and sell cannabis to (1) licensed retail marijuana stores, (2) retail marijuana products manufacturing facilities, (3) other retail marijuana cultivation facilities, and (4) retail marijuana social clubs.

  • Can operate a retail marijuana store, if the store is located on the same licensed premises.

C. Retail marijuana products manufacturing facility

  • Can manufacture "retail marijuana products" (i.e., products made from retail marijuana, including concentrates, ointments, tinctures, and edibles).

  • Can grow its own marijuana if it obtains a retail marijuana cultivation facility license; if not, it must purchase its marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana cultivation facility.

D. Retail marijuana testing facility

  • Can perform testing and research on retail marijuana from (1) retail marijuana cultivation facilities, (2) retail marijuana products manufacturing facilities, (3) retail marijuana stores, and (4) retail marijuana social clubs.

E. Retail marijuana social club

  • Can sell retail marijuana, retail marijuana products, and related accessories, gear, and apparel to customers at least 21 years of age.

  • Retail marijuana and marijuana products sold on the premises must be consumed on the premises.

4) Requirements and Priorities for Retail Facility Applicants

Many medical marijuana caregivers, patients, and others will likely seek retail marijuana facility licenses in the months ahead. These licenses won't be issued on a strictly first-come, first-served basis; instead, applicants must meet certain requirements, and priority will be given to certain classes of applicants.

The law provides that applicants:

A. must be at least 21 years old;

B. must not have a disqualifying drug offense on record. In this context, a "disqualifying drug offense" means conviction for a state or federal controlled substance law violation punishable by 5 or more years incarceration, for which any term of imprisonment, probation, or supervised release ended less than 10 years prior to the time of application;

C. must not have previously had a retail marijuana establishment license revoked;

D. cannot be a member of law enforcement; and

E. will be given priority for licenses as follows: first priority for issuing licenses will be given to cultivating caregivers that have been registered with DHHS for at least two years at the time of the application. Equal priority will be given to individuals who have served as principal officers or directors of a dispensary, though each director or officer will get preference for only one of each license type, regardless of how many dispensaries in which he or she has an interest. Additional preference will be granted to caregivers who have three or more caregiver registration cards at the time of the application.

5) Cultivation Facility Limits and Grow Sizes

Throughout Question 1’s campaign, one of the more controversial aspects of the initiative was its cap on the total plant canopy that will be licensed for retail cultivation. The Department will initially limit plant canopy for retail cultivation facilities statewide to 800,000 square feet. The Department may raise this limit if it determines that a greater amount is needed to ensure an adequate supply to meet demand for various strains of marijuana throughout the state.

There will be two types of cultivation facility licenses issued:

(1) those with 3,000 square feet or less of plant canopy, and

(2) those with more than 3,000 square feet of plant canopy (up to 30,000 square feet).

The Department will license retail marijuana cultivation facilities by unit blocks of 10 feet by 10 feet, or 100 square feet, of plant canopy, with 40% of all licenses issued going to licensees of 30 unit blocks (3,000 square feet) or less. The maximum amount of unit blocks allowed to a single licensee is 300 (30,000 square feet).

Retail marijuana cultivation facility licenses will be awarded to applicants based on the priority system outlined in Section 4, above. If after 90 days the statewide 800,000 square-foot canopy limit isn't exhausted by priority applicants, the agency will accept additional cultivation applications.

6) Local Law

While the state may not limit the number of retail marijuana store licenses, Maine’s municipalities will have total control over where any retail marijuana establishments will be located, and if they will be permitted at all. As with medical marijuana caregiver facilities today, local zoning laws and ordinances will determine where retail marijuana establishments may operate.


This article seeks to provide a sense of some of the most important parts of Maine's marijuana legalization law, but the law is lengthy and complex, and cannot be completely summarized in this article. And of course, as the regulatory process progresses and as the state drafts the specific rules governing retail marijuana, the estimated timeline and expected licensing procedures could change. This blog will be updated periodically to report on important developments in the legalization process.

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