Simon Lydon, a local cannabis cultivator, stopped in to purchase pre-rolled joints at Sweet Relief, the adult-use marijuana shop owned by John Lorenz in Northport on opening day. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Jason Chavez awoke at 6 a.m. Friday to assure he would be first in line at the Theory Wellness adult-use marijuana store when it opened on the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Maine.

The 30-year-old Portland resident took the day off from his construction job hoping to buy marijuana buds, edibles and possibly liquid THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, for recreational use.

When the doors opened at 10 a.m., he rushed into the South Portland store first pumping his fist high. When he rang out at the cashier he got everything but the liquid THC, which wasn’t yet in stock. About 50 people snaked out the door and down the sidewalk behind him waiting for their turn.

In Northport, business was slow but steady on the opening day for Sweet Relief, the adult-use marijuana shop owned by John Lorenz. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

Theory Wellness expected several hundred visitors on the first day of sales as Maine is now the 11th state to open a recreational marijuana market. Only eight stores, eight cultivation facilities, four manufacturing businesses and one testing laboratory have been licensed by the state to operate adult-use activities, which curtailed the amount of products and the variety of those available, but not the upbeat mood of buyers. 

In Northport, business was slow but steady at Sweet Relief on U.S. Route 1. One excited customer, 70-year-old Jonathan White of Damariscotta, has used marijuana recreationally on and off since he was 18.

“I never thought this would be legal,” he said, holding the pre-rolled joints he had just purchased inside the unassuming storefront.

When Maine voters narrowly voted four years ago to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, White started looking forward to the day that stores like Sweet Relief would begin to open. He figured it wouldn’t take long. He was wrong. Two years into the wait, he bought seeds from Europe and grew plants in a closet.

Some came to Maine for reasons other than recreational use. Erin Carr, 38, and her boyfriend Jackson Bickford, 39, both of Rochester, New Hampshire, are considering moving to Maine, partly to get easy access to marijuana. Carr, who is currently homeless, said she uses marijuana for chronic pain and mental health and cannot afford a medical card.

Long lines and a full parking lot marked the opening of Firestorm in Bangor on the first day of legal marijuana sales on Oct. 9. Credit: Natalie Williams | BDN

“We were going to Massachusetts before to buy recreational marijuana, but it was expensive and the choices were limited,” she said.

Theory Wellness CEO Brandon Pollock figures that his company, based in Massachusetts with stores there, will lose some customers to Maine retailers. That might not be totally bad for business, because marijuana supplies have been in short supply during the two years that the recreational market has been operational in Massachusetts, keeping prices high, the Colby College graduate said.

Theory Wellness, which like most other sellers in Maine had to buy its initial plants from licensed medical marijuana caregivers and process it for sale in the store, is limiting the quantities it is selling.

While Maine allows 2.5 ounces for purchase and possession, it limited sales to one-eighth of an ounce of flower buds per visit, plus one rolled marijuana cigarette and one edible. The price for that eighth-ounce is about $55, including the state’s 10 percent tax. That’s slightly lower than the $65 for the same amount in Massachusetts, where the tax is 20 percent. It sells candy, popcorn and other snacks in the 2,000-square-foot store as well.

People line up outside of Theory Wellness before opening to the public for the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Maine on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 in South Portland, Maine. Credit: Brianna Soukup | Portland Press Herald via AP

Pollock already is thinking of his second store, planned for Waterville around Thanksgiving. He has a conditional license from the town but still needs to get the active license from the state. That kind of growth and size concerns some of the smaller caregivers in Maine. Theory Wellness is the only one of the eight active licensed stores in Maine based out of state.

Shirley, an activist with the grassroots Maine Cannabis Coalition who only wanted to be known by a single name, stood in the parking lot outside the new store with a handful of other protesters. He claimed the store would underprice small local sellers.

“They’re the Walmart of cannabis,” he yelled through a bullhorn.

That perplexed Senica Nixon, 34, from Old Orchard Beach, who came to buy products for recreational use and to help him sleep.

“If they can sell to Theory Wellness, then they will get the money. What’s the problem?” he said.

BDN writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.

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Lori Valigra

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...