Thomas Winstanley remembers the long lines when adult-use marijuana stores opened in Massachusetts just before Thanksgiving 2018.
He would have expected the same when his company’s South Portland store opens Friday, but the coronavirus is adding a twist this year.
Theory Wellness will open as one of only eight adult-use retail stores licensed to operate in Maine on the first day of sales. The company has plenty of experience. It is based in Massachusetts, where it has two stores and is about to be approved for its third medical marijuana store.
“I think one of the learnings we have from opening recreational locations in Massachusetts is you never really know what to anticipate,” Winstanley, the marketing director for Theory Wellness, said.
Store owners expect pent-up interest when Maine stores open nearly four years after recreational marijuana legalization was approved by voters. The market may begin slowly amid expectations of product shortages as businesses get licensed and begin ramping up. As the market opens, eight cultivation facilities, four manufacturing businesses and one testing laboratory have been licensed by the state for recreational activities.
Theory Wellness is encouraging customers to pre-order online and make appointments to pick up purchases, a policy that many Massachusetts stores instituted to decrease wait times. Customers still can walk in. Winstanley said pre-orders have been popular in Massachusetts, where unlike in Maine, recreational and medical businesses can operate under the same roof.
People rushing to experience the first day of sales in Maine will have to be patient as they will be asked to maintain six-foot social distances and get carded to prove they are 21 when they enter the store and at the cash register, he said. Theory Wellness will accept only cash or PIN-based debit cards that are charged a $2.75 ATM transaction fee. The tax on cannabis sales is 10 percent in Maine. Methods of payment will vary across the state.
The pandemic delayed the opening of the market in Maine. In September when the first active licenses were awarded, Erik Gundersen, the director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, said he expects the market to evolve over the coming weeks and months, though it will initially be limited in both accessibility for consumers and product availability.
John Lorenz, owner of Sweet Relief in Northport, said he expected lines of people camped outside stores overnight Thursday, similar to how customers line up in front of Apple stores the night before a new iPhone is released. He is not worried about product shortages, which some other states experienced when they opened recreational markets.
“It will take time, as well as next summer’s season and harvest, to get the program up to its full potential,” he said.
Other players in the industry such as licensed chocolatiers, bakers and extractors also need to increase production of edibles, which are expected to be in very short supply initially for recreational stores. Lorenz said he was scrambling to get products to sell, and expects many stores in Maine will be selling mostly buds in October.
Customers 21 years or older are allowed to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, marijuana concentrate and marijuana products, including no more than 5 grams of marijuana concentrate, according to the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy. However, some stores may set their own limits that are lower than that, policy office spokesperson David Heidrich said.
Another adult-use store in South Portland, Seaweed, has related businesses with licenses for cultivation and manufacturing, so it and Theory Wellness will be the only two vertically integrated recreational marijuana companies in Maine when the market starts.
Theory Wellness also has active licenses for a cultivation and a manufacturing facility in Waterville. Until it ramps up production, Theory Wellness will buy plants from licensed medical marijuana caregivers and put them through a curing process to prepare products for sale, Winstanley said.
Winstanley said Theory Wellness has started seedlings in the Waterville facility and is about two to three months away from having its own plants.
“We’re working very hard to be able to produce,” he said. “At the same time, I think if there’s anything we’ve learned in the cannabis industry, [it] is there are no guarantees that anything will happen according to plan. We’ll take it day by day.”