Launch of adult use marijuana in Maine delayed by pandemic

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 4:30pm

    AUGUSTA — The Office of Marijuana Policy announced April 10 its intentions to postpone the spring debut of adult use marijuana retail sales in Maine, according to a news release.

    The decision, made due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, marks the first implementation delay for adult use marijuana since the Mills Administration created OMP within the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services last year.

    Since its inception, OMP has placed a high priority on transparency and fulfilling its promises to a public and industry that have waited years for an avenue to legally access and sell adult use marijuana and marijuana products, a news release read.

    In a Friday letter to conditional and prospective adult use licensees, OMP Director Erik Gundersen noted the office has delivered on its past promises to complete administrative rulemaking and begin accepting applications in 2019 before going on to address the current challenges facing a spring implementation of adult use retail sales, according to the release. 

    “We have managed every potential roadblock within our control and have worked with our fellow state agencies, towns and cities, industry members, and the Maine Legislature to overcome others,” Director Gundersen wrote to stakeholders. “Just one month ago, as we announced the issuance of Maine’s first conditional licenses for adult use marijuana establishments, few would have envisioned the effects the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) would have on the daily lives of Mainers. However, it now appears as though a spring launch of Maine’s adult use industry is simply unrealistic.”

    The office first noted the possibility of an adult use rollout delay in a March 24 memorandum to program participants on Governor Mills’ coronavirus civil emergency declaration.

    In his letter, Gundersen reinforced OMP’s commitment to protecting public health and safety as Maine towns and cities confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, the release noted. 

    “Several communities preparing for local authorization and to opt-in for adult use—most notably those that serve as hosts to our prospective marijuana testing facilities — have now had to postpone those actions because of COVID-19, and rightfully so,” wrote Director Gundersen. “The other issue in this unfortunate situation are the sheer unknowns. Public health experts have clearly communicated that they cannot answer what social distancing or other guidance may be in effect as we approach late spring and early summer.”

    The letter concluded by noting the uncertain timeline for the retail sale of adult use marijuana and a commitment to continue working with the industry to clearly communicate plans for its future rollout. A new adult use launch window will not be publicly identified until guidance from public health experts deems such an action appropriate.

    Late last month, in response to COVID-19, OMP implemented a remote work plan for most of its staff and closed its Augusta office to the public. Despite these adjustments, the office is continuing to operate at full capacity by — among other things —accepting adult and medical use applications, issuing medical marijuana registrations and adult use conditional licenses, and developing new rules and regulations required by recent changes in state law.

    In the coming weeks and months, this work will proceed unchanged. OMP will also continue to engage with its fellow state agencies, municipalities, industry members, state and local health experts, and the public as it moves forward with launching adult use marijuana in Maine.

    The Mills Administration created OMP within DAFS in February 2019. The Office is responsible for the oversight of all aspects of legalized marijuana, including Maine's existing Medical Use of Marijuana Program.