By Penelope Overton

The state will start accepting marijuana business licenses this month, but in some Maine communities that are welcoming the new industry, the race to be first in market has already begun. In a few it’s almost over, and in others the market is already closed, at least for now.

The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy will publish applications for state provisional licenses to grow adult-use cannabis, sell it and manufacture products made from it to its website Thursday, kicking off a monthslong state review of those vying to become pioneers in Maine’s recreational market.

There’s a lot on the line. Maine’s recreational cannabis market is likely to top $158 million in sales its first year and almost $252 million in its second, according to industry analysts. Pioneers will profit from the wave of Maine’s first sales, establish their hold on the market and grow market and consumer loyalty.

“There is a real benefit to being in that first wave, symbolically and practically,” said lawyer Hannah King of Drummond Woodsum. “You’re first to market, first to meet consumers and finally making money. You’re also first to set up make-or-break business relationships, like brand and distribution deals.”

Applicants who want to be one of the first adult-use operators in Maine have already staked a claim in one of two dozen communities that are opening to this new market. In Maine, local approval is required before a conditional state license can be converted into an active one.

South Portland has already granted land-use approvals allowing adult-use early birds to plant flags in high-traffic retail areas like the Maine Mall and use local buffer restrictions to shut out their rivals. Multi-state operators like Curaleaf and Theory are among South Portland’s first adopters.

If the race has started in South Portland, it’s already over in Poland, at least for now. The town held a lottery in July to decide who would get its 10 cultivation and 10 retail store licenses. Only three growers and five retailers applied, so everybody got one, and Poland won’t hold its next lottery for a year.

Hallowell has already handed out its three downtown marijuana store licenses. It held a lottery a year ago, before the state had even adopted its adult-use rules, so the winners were all medical cannabis storefronts. Only they can apply for the licenses needed to become recreational shops.

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