In this Dec. 13, 2017, file photo, a marijuana plant grows under artificial light at an indoor facility in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Nearly four years after Maine voters legalized recreational marijuana, the state office overseeing the market’s launch said Tuesday it has approved the first six active licenses for adult-use marijuana establishments.

That moves the state closer to starting retail sales to the public beginning on Friday, Oct. 9, when active retail license holders can sell to consumers 21 years of age or older.

It took until June 2019 for the Legislature to vote on rules for recreational marijuana sales and regulation in Maine and then pass them on for the governor’s signature. Businesses need both conditional approval from the city or town where they will operate and active license approval from the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy before they can open legally.

Maine first made adult-use applications available last Dec. 5, and the first conditional licenses were issued on March 13, 2020. The marijuana policy office said it was on pace for a spring 2020 launch of adult-use marijuana before the pandemic postponed those plans.

“While the current health pandemic delayed our efforts and will likely contribute to a less robust introduction to the market than expected, today’s action is a start to the realization of the will of Maine voters to provide adults 21 years of age and older with a lawful mechanism to obtain marijuana,” Erik Gundersen, director of the state marijuana policy office, said.

He said the initial market will likely be limited in both accessibility and product availability, but the industry will evolve in the coming months.

The office issued three cultivation licenses, one each to GELE LLC of South Portland, Grass Roots Marijuana LLC of Auburn and Room 5 LLC of Detroit. Two shops got active licenses, Theory Wellness of Maine LLC of South Portland and Sweet Relief Shop LLC of Northport. Testing facility Nelson Analytical LLC of Kennebunk also received an active license.

The stores with active licenses cannot begin retail sales until Oct. 9, although cultivators may start transferring plants from Maine’s existing medical program and harvesting marijuana immediately.

Last month, the marijuana office collaborated with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a COVID-19 checklist for adult-use licensees.

Unless they have transitioned to the adult-use program, existing medical marijuana caregiver storefronts may only sell marijuana and marijuana products to certified patients. Maine law prohibits the sale of medical and non-medical marijuana from the same establishment.

The office said it will continue to issue active licenses on a rolling basis, increasing the number of establishments authorized to conduct retail sales next month.

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