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Survey Shows Legal Cannabis Is Squeezing Maine’s Illicit Pot Market

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

June 17, 2022

reflection in a mirror of a woman blowing out cannabis smoke

Denx Arman via Pexels

A survey of cannabis users in Maine suggests that regulated cannabis is replacing the illicit pot market faster than in other states that have

recreational marijuana. The data from the survey reveal that nearly two-thirds of the cannabis being used in Maine is coming from a regulated or legal source, according to a report from the state’s marijuana regulator.

The Office of Cannabis Policy surveyed more than 2,000 adult residents about their cannabis buying and consumption habits over a period of one month. A

showed that 64 percent of the cannabis consumed in the state comes from legal sources, including licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and caregivers or regulated adult-use cannabis retailers. The remaining 36 percent of cannabis used in Maine was purchased on the state’s illicit marijuana market. 

State regulators noted that data from Massachusetts, Alaska and California indicate a much more pervasive unregulated pot economy, despite cannabis legalization efforts taking hold in those states earlier. Maine voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Question 1 in the November 2016 general election, although dispensary sales of adult-use cannabis did not begin in the state until October 2020, largely due to delays orchestrated by former Gov. Paul LePage. By contrast, California has had legal sales of recreational cannabis since January 2018, while regulated adult-use dispensaries opened in Alaska and Massachusetts about three years ago.

Erik Gundersen, director of Maine’s Office of Cannabis Policy, said that the state is reducing the market for illicit cannabis faster than in other states, crediting the legislation drafted by state lawmakers to legalize marijuana for adults.

“We’ve proven that states can successfully implement adult-use cannabis programs, both in the way of mitigating negative health effects, but also creating a place where businesses can thrive and survive,”

. “And it creates an environment where people want to purchase their cannabis through those well-regulated test and track cannabis programs.”

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Access to Licensed Retailers in Maine is Key

The survey found that Maine residents who live in a zip code with at least one licensed cannabis dispensary are more likely to purchase marijuana from a regulated retailer. Only about 15 percent of the cannabis bought in the state was purchased from licensed adult-use retailers, with regulated medical marijuana, legal home grows and the illicit market making up the balance. But the report noted that nearly half of cannabis users had done business with a licensed source of regulated adult-use marijuana, suggesting that many consumers do not rely on only one source of cannabis.

“Importantly, although the total amount of past-month cannabis accessed from adult-use stores is estimated to be around 15% in Maine right now, 46% of past-month cannabis users have purchased cannabis from an adult-use store in the last month, which is the second-highest percentage of any source after medical dispensary/caregiver storefront and accessing from friends and family (free or bought),” the report states.

Gundersen noted that while the data is promising, more jurisdictions will have to welcome recreational marijuana retailers for the percentage of cannabis purchased at licensed shops to increase.

“If we want people who are accessing cannabis to do it through the regulated test and track marketplace, then we need to have more than the 7% of towns that have opted in statewide,” he said.

The report also notes that other measures will also have to be taken, including adding new options for Maine residents to access recreational cannabis.

“These findings suggest it is likely that Maine is curbing the illicit market at a greater rate than other states that have implemented adult-use laws, when accounting for how long adult-use stores have been open,” the authors of the report wrote. “While this finding is promising, it should not be misconstrued to mean that the adult-use market has reached homeostasis. Future policy decisions, such as delivery of cannabis by stores or other licensees, will greatly impact the speed of which the illicit market may be curbed.”

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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