Boothbay’s Highly Cannaco is among countless Maine soon-to-be retailers waiting to break into the adult-use cannabis market Oct. 9. Owner Jan Martin – also owner of Highly storefronts in South Portland and Auburn – said the date will most likely be crickets for those eager to make their first legal purchase. Highly currently awaits finalization of a Tier 3 license from the state.
“The state has been trying to get this program online for four years now. We've had a few setbacks, and COVID certainly didn't help the roll-out of the program, but until recently we couldn't transfer any of our inventory from medical to adult-use.”
Maine allowed the transfer of medical inventory beginning Sept. 9, but Martin said it takes about 18 months for the supply chain to catch up and several months to generate enough of an inventory to make sales fully operational.
“We don't anticipate it being that long, but we do anticipate our conversion is going to be first quarter next year. That's a combination of us ramping up what we can do to grow, introduce for technology to keep up with demand.”
Martin said besides the in-house production and preparation, there are separate testing procedures for flowers, concentrates, tinctures, edibles and any combinations or derivatives.
“Then you're at the mercy of the testing labs – how backlogged are they? (Even) some of the biggest operators in Maine won't be coming online Oct. 9 because even they don't have the capability to meet demand.”
The other caveat for medical cannabis businesses opening up to adult-use is that medical and adult-use retail cannot be “co-located,” Martin said. “For whatever reason, Maine prohibits selling both products at the same store. You can co-locate your grow, you can co-locate your manufacturing, but you can't co-locate sales. Hopefully that changes in the near future.”
Until then, Martin said Highly will cater to the adult-use market once inventory is filled enough to reasonably begin the switchover from medical.
Since all Highly locations are awaiting final licensing from the state and then the right time to jump into the market, several changes have been under way at the Boothbay branch: The building is undergoing renovations for a new retail space in the south part of the building, an improvement Martin and staff have been anxiously awaiting after six months of window service.
The layout of the new space is designed to be one way in, one way out, which Martin said serves the business well and incidentally serves the health and safety aspect of social distancing and keeping people from crossing paths. The old space will be gutted and built out for more growing room and processing. The extra room will help fill out the Tier 3 licensing Highly awaits from the state which allows for 7,000 square feet of canopy. It also takes away some of the strain of growing organically and as a zero-waste facility, Martin added.
The growing methods Martin and his staff use eliminate wastewater runoff, soil waste and plant matter waste. Martin said plant matter is returned to the soil surface as a mulch and harvested plants are cut at ground level and left to decompose and feed future cycles of plant.
“We're going to be, as far as I know, the only zero-waste organic grow in the adult-use market … All the ingredients we mix are certified organic … You know, when you say you're organic, that sounds good, but when it comes to actually doing it, it becomes a completely different story …”
Martin said he and the Highly staff have made sure they are always on par with the rules and guidelines the state is likely to next adopt. After all, it benefits the consumer to have mandatory testing on things like mildew, pesticides, heavy metals and other dangerous substances, he said.
A few businesses around the state will try and open on Oct. 9, but they will for sure be the guinea pigs of the new market, said Martin. “Several are professional friends of mine and we all know it’s going to be interesting. Those of us not going online (yet) will be watching …”