Regulators in Maine announced on Friday that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic would interfere with the state’s debut of recreational cannabis sales that was planned for this spring. The move continues the delays that have plagued the launch of the adult-use cannabis industry that Maine voters approved in 2016.
The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy announced last month that it expected sales of recreational marijuana to begin in June, three months later than earlier projected. But in a letter sent to stakeholders on Friday, Erik Gundersen, the agency’s director, said the date was no longer feasible because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It now appears as though a spring launch of Maine’s adult use industry is simply unrealistic,” he said. “Public health experts have clearly communicated that they cannot answer what social distancing or other guidance may be in effect as we approach late spring and early summer.”
Gundersen added that many local governments have not been able to grant approval to cannabis businesses applying to operate in their jurisdictions, a necessary step in the process of obtaining a license from the state. The town of Kennebunk had scheduled an April 7 referendum for voters to decide if Nelson Analytical, a laboratory already licensed to test medical marijuana, should also be licensed to perform required safety and potency tests for recreational cannabis. But because of the pandemic, the election has been postponed until May.
Launch Date Now Uncertain
Because of the number of variables involved, Gundersen said that he was not able to project when sales of recreational cannabis would begin.
“We are simply unable to provide any concrete timelines in these uncertain times,” he wrote. “We cannot tell you with any level of certainty when towns will be able to take action … and we certainly cannot set a definitive retail sales launch date amidst a public health pandemic.”
Gundersen acknowledged in his letter that many businesses have been waiting a long time for the debut of Maine’s recreational cannabis industry. He also assured stakeholders that his office is working hard to make the launch a reality, noting that the agency has met all of its deadlines since it was created last year.
“Few would have envisioned the effects the (COVID-19) would have on the daily lives of Mainers,” Gundersen said.
Despite the delay of the launch of recreational cannabis in Maine, the medical marijuana industry continues to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. On March 31, Gov. Janet Mills included medicinal cannabis producers and retailers on a list of essential businesses permitted to remain open during mandatory closures ordered in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.