AUGUSTA — The Central Maine Business Breakfast on the emerging adult-use marijuana market in Maine brought about 70 people to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta on Wednesday morning to talk about what to expect when it debuts later this year.

Erik Gundersen, the director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, left, speaks while Dennis Wheelock, of Magnusson Balfour Commercial and Business Brokers, a division of Keller Williams, looks on Wednesday morning. They were two of the panelists at the Central Maine Business Breakfast about the emerging adult-use marijuana retail market. Gene Ardito, CEO of cPort Credit Union, not pictured, was also a panelist at the event at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta. . Kennebec Journal photo by Scott Monroe

Dennis Wheelock, of Magnusson Balfour Commercial and Business Brokers, a division of Keller Williams; Erik Gundersen, the director of the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy; and Gene Ardito, CEO of cPort Credit Union were the panelists.

Here are the highlights:

• While he couldn’t say precisely when the state regulated adult-use marijuana market would launch, Gundersen said the state is expecting to start accepting applications from those interested obtaining a license to sell marijuana this year. And the rules will be publicly available in September.  “We’re trying to move as quickly as possible, we most certainly also realize that we have to do it right to ensure safety and the public’s health are minimally impacted,” he said. “Now that the law has passed, the Office of Marijuana Policy is working on how the implementation will take place, how applications will be developed and processed and putting together a compliance team.”

• To launch an adult-use cannabis enterprise, the first step is to get a conditional license. “That’s where the fingerprints come in; that’s where you have to pass a criminal history check  and your residency,” and a few other things, Gundersen said. The next step is to find a host community where such enterprises are allowed. When the Maine state Legislature put in place the legislation, it established a state-wide moratorium, and only municipalities that opt in by an affirmative vote can allow it. To date, 21 communities have opted in, and they will have their own local zoning and land use requirements to be followed. Before the final license is issued, the state will review the operations and security plan, and the facilities. “We want to make sure whatever hoops you jump through there’s a purpose behind it,” Gundersen said.

Attendees gather Wednesday morning for the Central Maine Business Breakfast on the emerging adult-use marijuana market in Maine. The breakfast talk, which drew about 70 people, took place at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Scott Monroe

• While state legislators have legalized the sale and use of marijuana products, the substance is still illegal on the federal level. Wheelock said as soon as the citizen’s referendum passed in 2016, his phone started ringing. “The biggest thing was the uncertainty of what’s going to pass. A lot of cities and towns said they were going to wait to see what happens,” he said, and communities imposed successive moratoriums waiting for the state to take action. “Everybody has a different risk tolerance, right? There are people  saying they aren’t doing anything, including landlords or property owners until they have a clear view of where this is going. That kept a certain amount of people on the sidelines. Then you had some said they would dabble in it a little bit, and would do some leases.” Some cities and towns still have a wait-and-see attitude. It doesn’t make any sense to invest in a facility if the town is not going to allow adult-use marijuana enterprises, he said. Wheelock said he worked for eight months on a large deal, but lawyers advised caution because of the federal stance, and the deal collapsed.

• Handling money that circulates through the pot economy presents many challenges. Ardito said cPort Credit Union has been serving customers for several years, and it’s a big issue. “We’re state chartered, so our regulators are in Gardiner. I went to go meet with our regulators and asked if we could offer the service of accepting deposits, they didn’t say no, but they didn’t say yes,” he said. “We kind of figured out if we did this, we’d have to have a really strong compliance program. There’s significant risk to us as a financial institution if we don’t manage this correctly. I haven’t gone to jail yet. The regulators have been in several times to look at what we do. We have very significant reporting requirements associating with accepting deposits.” The credit union will not make a loan for a marijuana business to buy a building, because there is risk is losing the property if it’s seized under federal law.

• While the cannabis business market is emerging, it’s still a business. Wheelock said he’s worked with several people who have taken on a marijuana grow as a part-time business, only to find it’s too much work. Ardito said when the day comes that financial institutions can write loans to buy property or build a facility, business owners will have to show what they plan to do. In the meantime, several members of the audience said they were using creative financing to fund their businesses. One man said he was refinancing his home through Rocket Mortgage and another said he was cashing in his 401 (k) retirement account.


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