Thirty applicants are competing for the 20 city licenses available to operate adult-use marijuana stores in Portland.
Four of the applicants who met the city’s Monday deadline for seeking a license want to operate a medical cannabis shop in Maine’s largest city, while the rest would sell adult-use marijuana. Under the city’s licensing scheme, medical and adult-use retail shops would be treated the same under the city’s zoning laws and licensing regulations.
How the city will decide who gets these licenses is uncertain. The City Council had spent a year developing a municipal marijuana zoning and licensing system, including a scoring matrix to decide who would get a retail license if it received more than 20 applications, but a court recently declared the city’s scoring matrix unconstitutional because it favored local residents.
The city is still trying to decide how to respond to the court ruling, but that might not even be necessary after November. That is when city residents will go to the polls to consider a referendum question that advocates for the elimination of the 20-license cap on local marijuana shops, and shrink the buffer between licensed stores from 250 feet to 100 feet.
The court ruling makes it impossible for the city to hand out any local marijuana licenses in time for any retail shop in Portland to be ready to open its doors on Oct. 9, the date the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy said state-licensed businesses can make their first recreational marijuana retail sales to the public.
But the ruling just means the city licensing process will be delayed, not derailed, according to city officials. Portland still plans to move ahead with licensing adult-use marijuana businesses, from the smallest of recreational grows to large extraction operations to retail shops. The only thing in question is how they will decide who gets a retail license, and when, not if it will happen.
Many of the applicants who met Portland’s retail license deadline are already active in Portland’s marijuana community.
Pot & Pan has been producing edible medical marijuana confections that have been sold by local medical marijuana caregivers for years, but are now vying for a license to open a retail shop on 646 Forest Avenue. Atlantic Farms opened the state’s first gas-and-grass operation inside a Warren Avenue filling station in December 2018.
Wellness Connection of Maine, the state’s largest marijuana company and the operator of four of Maine’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries, wants to convert the former Longfellow Home at 685 Congress St. into an adult-use retail store. The store is located a few blocks from its flagship medical dispensary in Portland.
The four medical marijuana applicants are Beach Boys Cannabis Co., who want to open a shop at 115 Middle St.; Higher Grounds at 45 Wharf St., where it now sells coffee and hemp-derived CBD products; Hazy Hill Farm, a longtime medical marijuana delivery service, at 482 Congress St.; and Evergreen Cannabis Company at 178A Washington Ave.
City voters approved legalization by a 2-to-1 margin at statewide referendum in 2016. So far, about three dozen Maine communities, from Auburn to Wilton, have opted into the new marketplace. Portland is the only municipality to hand out licenses using a scoring system; others with license caps have used random lotteries or adopted a first-come, first-served policy.
The Portland City Council decided to adopt a 20-store cap early on during the yearlong road to its May adoption of local cannabis rules. Councilors see the cap as a way for Portland to enter the marijuana market in a slow, controlled manner and lower the risk of flooding the new market with more suppliers than needed. A market failure would hurt everyone, they argued.
The city created a score sheet to decide who would get a retail license, giving preference to Mainers, the disadvantaged, business owners, medical cannabis caregivers, those with $150,000 in the bank, and companies that pay a living wage or donate 1 percent of profits to the city for drug prevention. The 20 highest-scoring applicants would nab a shop license.