State regulators in Maine issued the first conditional licenses for cannabis businesses last week, setting the stage for retail marijuana sales to begin in late spring. Officials with Maine’s Office of Marijuana policy issued provisional approval for a total of 31 cannabis growers, manufacturers, and retailers pending their completion of the licensing process.

“We have said the adult-use industry will launch in spring 2020,” Erik Gundersen, the director of the agency, said in a statement Friday. “Today’s announcement moves us another step closer to honoring that pledge.”

The conditional licenses were issued for cannabis operations that include 16 retail shops, 10 cultivators, four manufacturers, and one nursery. The businesses plan to operate in 10 of Maine’s cities and towns, including 10 companies planning to locate in Portland, the state capital.

First Step in the Process

Receiving conditional approval is only the first of three steps that must be completed prior to receiving full licensure from the state. The applicants must now seek local approval from the municipalities in which they plan to operate, a process that can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Local jurisdictions are required to decide on applications for approval within 90 days, or 180 days if they request an extension.

Once applicants receive local approval, they return to the state to receive their active license. The Office of Marijuana Policy will continue to process applicants and grant provisional approvals through April. Officials also expect to issue the first active licenses in April and to permit retail stores to open in June. Gundersen said that the delay was designed to allow the new industry time to fill the expected initial demand for legal cannabis.

“Setting such a date will ensure stores have time to stock their shelves and allow product to build up in the system to withstand the demand for marijuana and marijuana product in the first few days of legal retail sales,” he said. “This approach has been used in other states.”

Delaying the launch of retail sales will also allow time for at least one cannabis testing lab to gain state approval and begin operations. State regulations require that all cannabis products be tested for purity, potency, and safety before they are sold.

“Testing bottlenecks have occurred in many states during implementation,” Gundersen said. “To avoid a similar situation in Maine, we will continue to work closely with our prospective testing facilities to ensure they are able to provide this new industry with adequate testing in a timely manner.”

So far, a total of five testing labs have begun navigating the licensing process but only one is close to gaining conditional approval, according to media reports.

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