November 2016, the month voters in Maine legalized recreational marijuana, seems like a distant memory now. And with 2019 coming to a close, Maine still doesn’t have a retail cannabis industry. In fact, from legalization to the start of legal sales—still slated for March 2020—Maine’s will have been the slowest rollout of any recreational-use program in the country.

But the wheels are finally turning for prospective cannabis businesses that have been idling for months and years, holding on to retail and cultivation space and preparing for the starting gun. Now that the state’s regulatory framework is finally in place, the Office of Marijuana Policy has announced the start date for marijuana business applications. But with only a handful of applications up for grabs and a gauntlet of bureaucratic and administrative hurdles to clear, the application process is going to be a frenzied race to the finish.

Maine Regulators Will Begin Accepting License Applications November 18

It’s been a long road to legal retail cannabis in Maine. But the end is finally in sight. On November 18, the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) will begin accepting marijuana business license applications from testing labs. Then, on December 5, it will begin accepting applications from manufacturers, growers and retailers. The long-awaited announcement came after OMP finalized the regulatory framework to govern Maine’s recreational marijuana industry.

Despite numerous setbacks and revisions to OMP regulations, the broad outlines of the state’s cannabis business requirements have been available since April 2019. And prospective businesses have been preparing. They’ve rented warehouses to set up grows or processing operations, leased retail space to set up shops and worked to win the support of municipal boards and city councils.

In Maine, cannabis businesses need local approval before OMP will consider an applicant for a license. And due to the authority Maine’s marijuana regulations give to municipalities to shape the industry in their jurisdictions, many cities and towns have placed caps on the number of businesses they’ll approve. Other municipalities, however, have no limits on the licenses they’ll award.

After Long Wait, Business Owners Bemoan Lengthly Requirements

The application process for marijuana businesses in Maine is an extensive one. Regulators designed it that way. To take an overview, the process involves three steps. First, there’s conditional licensure from the Office of Marijuana Policy. Next, there’s local authorization. And finally, there’s active licensure, awarded again by the OMP.

The idea behind the back and forth process, regulators say, is to allow the state to vet prospective adult use license applications before communities would have to review them. It’s a way to double check an applicant before any action is taken at the local level.

Within each of the three steps, however, there are a number of requirements, from obtaining ID cards and background checks to submitting forms and paying fees. The OMP lays out the entire process on its website. A close look shows that the process can take upwards of 180 days, or move as quickly as 90 days. That’s why the earliest recreational marijuana sales will begin is three months from the application start date on December 5, in March 2020.

For marijuana business applicants, the extensive licensing process is just another in a long line of delays and setbacks over the past three years. But at least they’ve seen the lengthy application requirements coming. Starting December 5, it will be a question of which applicants can move the quickest to win an active license.

At least adults in Maine can still grow their own cannabis at home as they await the start of legal retail sales in March.

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