More than 90 percent of Maine towns and cities still don’t allow adult-use marijuana stores, reports the Bangor Daily News. This is true even as sales in the Cannabis industry have steadily grown since they started nearly a year ago.
Across the state, only 47 of about 500 towns and cities in Maine have opted in to allow adult-use weed retailers. Fewer than a third of state residents, just 29 percent, live in those communities. Many more, however, live near them, according to data from the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy and the 2020 U.S. Census.
The small number of towns allowing sales presents one hurdle to further growth for the Cannabis industry. Shops have only been allowed to sell recreational pot since last October. State dispensaries posted their highest total sales figure yet, $10.2 million, in August. A marijuana industry group acknowledged the slow progress of towns signing onto allow retail shops.
Some of the resistance to allowing Cannabis shops comes from many Mainers’ association of weed with harder drugs that have ravaged their communities. After seeing the societal harms inflicted by opioids and methamphetamine, after all, folks get cautious.
Many Communities Ban Sales
Rather than opt into adult-use sales, many communities have passed ordinances banning the development of retail Cannabis stores.
Lots of these bans came in the years after Maine voters legalized the herb for adult use. Carmel’s prohibition took effect in 2017. That town’s pot sales ban came after Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton recommended it to the town’s select board in December 2016. The sheriff claimed there would be “unforeseen circumstances” arising from the legalization of Cannabis, according to town minutes.
While the referendum legalizing marijuana narrowly passed across Maine in 2016, it was with no help from Penobscot County. Fifty-four percent of the county’s residents voted no.
Maine Is Conservative… But Also Libertarian
Five years later, the question of bringing adult-use pot shops to town will be put to voters in November, select board member Stephen Grammont said. The question came up as a town committee looked at reworking its zoning and land use ordinances, according to Grammont.
“The measure on the ballot is to see if people want the activity at all,” Grammont said. While the referendum won’t be officially binding, the town’s select board will be “obligated” to follow its conclusions, he said.
Dover-Foxcroft is the largest town in Maine’s most conservative county. Yet, he said, it was unclear how residents felt about Cannabis.
“The weird thing about Maine is that it’s conservative but also libertarian,” said Grammont, who noted a wide range of political movements historically flourished in Maine, from the temperance movement to gun rights.
Movement Has Been Fairly Slow
For many communities, it has taken a proposal for a retail store to persuade them to opt in. Medway, which legalized recreational stores by town vote in March 2020, has one adult-use Cannabis shop. It will likely have another if residents vote to permit medical shops later this month, Town Clerk Katherine Lee said.
More towns could opt in over time if they get similar requests as long as such requests are “economically feasible,” Lee said.
As Maine’s Cannabis industry looks to expand, getting more towns to opt in is essential, said Joel Pepin, president of the Maine Cannabis Industry Association. Movement has been fairly slow across the state, Pepin said.
Fear Of The Unknown
A fear of the unknown is a significant reason, he believes said. In addition, Pepin said some municipalities might not see much in it for them. Excise and sales taxes from retail stores go entirely to the state rather than to the communities where they’re located.
Though he wants to see more towns, cities and plantations sign on, Pepin was optimistic about how the adult-use marijuana industry had done since sales began in October. He noted that prices, once an issue, had come down.
“It takes time for stigma to change, and it takes time for operators to jump in and participate in the market,” Pepin said. “But I mean, the market’s been launched now for a year and it seems to have already made a tremendous amount of progress.”
‘So Why Not?’
Stacyville approved its present marijuana policies during town meetings in March and August 2019.
Select board member Alvin Theriault said there was no opposition whatsoever. Residents were attracted to the economic prospects: A large-scale grower had considered doing business in Stacyville, but later decided not to due to state regulations, Theriault said.
“We don’t have any industry here. We don’t have anything,” Theriault said. “So why not?”
One shop, The Green Moose Smoke Shop, has since opened in Stacyville. But as a medical dispensary, it only sells products to those enrolled in Maine’s medical Cannabis program.
Theriault, who would encounter marijuana when it was illegal during his decades as a game warden, said people would smoke weed whether or not communities allowed its sale.
“It’s out there,” Theriault said. “You might as well collect taxes on it.”