Maine is offering up to $20,000 to any city or town that agrees to allow adult-use cannabis businesses to open on their turf.
The state Office of Cannabis Policy (OCP) recently announced that municipal governments are now eligible to recoup expenses related to regulating local weed businesses. The state will reimburse up to $20,000 for any eligible expenses incurred within the past three years. These expenses can include attorneys' fees, salaries for staff members who develop local cannabis ordinances, fees for providing notice of public hearings, and more.
The reimbursement program was set up by a new state law that allows the OCP to reinvest cannabis tax revenue into towns that actually participate in the industry. Like most adult-use states, Maine allows any individual municipality to ban recreational cannabis companies from doing business within their jurisdiction. But shockingly, 93% of all Maine towns and cities have chosen to opt out entirely.
The OCP is hoping that the new program will help incentivize towns to help support the state's struggling pot industry. As it stands now, Mainers who want to buy legal weed must travel to one of the 34 municipalities that have opted in to the industry. And without easy access to legal shops, nearly 40% of locals are still choosing to buy their weed on the black market.
“The reality is, no matter if a town has opted in or not, there is cannabis being bought, sold and consumed there,” said OCP Director Erik Gundersen, according to Spectrum News. “The most important thing we can do is try and ensure that Mainers who choose to use cannabis can do so in a well-regulated environment that safeguards public health and safety in the best way possible.”
This extreme opt-out rate has left Maine with one of the weakest adult-use industries in the entire US. Last month, the state's licensed adult-use shops made 247,401 transactions, for a total of $16.3 million in sales. States like New Jersey and New Mexico, which only started selling recreational weed this year, have already far exceeded those totals in their very first month of sales.
So far this year, Maine's adult-use industry has only sold $81 million worth of weed, and analysts predict that 2022's annual total will barely exceed $120 million. At the present rate, the state's recreational pot market is only expected to reach $300 million a year by 2025. In contrast, Michigan just sold nearly $189 million worth of adult-use weed in one single month, and established states like Colorado are selling well over $2 billion a year.
And to make matters worse, Maine has also been hit by the recent wave of cannabis industry robberies. This March, a ring of burglars who have been raiding cash-only weed shops all across New England stole 30 pounds of bud and 500 vape carts, worth around $59,000, from a warehouse in Gorham.
Fortunately, Maine's medical pot industry is in much better shape. In 2020, legal dispensaries sold over $250 million worth of medicine, and regulators are still approving nearly 10,000 patient certificates a month. Thanks to medical marijuana sales, cannabis is actually Maine's most valuable crop, beating out blueberries, potatoes, and milk.