Peter Guidi, owner of the Seagrass Inn in Old Orchard Beach, talks eagerly about the upcoming November election, but not like most do. He’s concerned with a local ballot question on whether to allow adult-use marijuana stores.
With Maine’s adult-use marijuana market slated to open on Oct. 9, he and others expect cannabis to be listed along with scenic shorelines and lobster as the next big draw for out-of-state visitors. Massachusetts, Colorado and other states with thriving recreational marijuana markets are already seeing millions of people and dollars in related tourism.
But that will likely take time in Maine as the state and municipalities ramp up approvals for stores and grow facilities and more cities and towns like Old Orchard Beach vote to allow the businesses. The market is also opening amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think if the state and towns that choose to do it make it reasonably easy for people to sell, then I think tens of thousands of people are going to come as marijuana tourists,” Guidi said.
The town’s population of 8,900 usually swells six-fold over the summer with Canadian and mostly out-of-state visitors, he said, but the virus dampened that number this year. Guidi’s 30-room inn saw a 60 percent drop in sales related to pandemic restrictions, and he closed it early for the season.
If the ballot question passes, he plans to at least set up a tent next spring on the property where guests can smoke marijuana or cigarettes and those who don’t smoke can stay away. Over the summer, he said a group of four elderly women were seen sitting in front of their rooms smoking weed. To Guidi, “it’s clear everybody’s smoking marijuana on vacation already.”
“I think it will have some positive impact,” Steve Hewins, president and CEO of the industry group HospitalityMaine, said of the new market.
He has no projections on how much adult-use marijuana could contribute to tourism in Maine, because other states including Massachusetts have legalized it and are seeing benefits. But American Marijuana, a cannabis education website, listed Massachusetts among the top five states where people travel for recreational marijuana, with Colorado topping the list.
Those travelers spent about $265 on cannabis products, according to its survey of 1,000 people who went to another state to legally buy marijuana. Adding lodging, transportation, activities and food bumped that up to $980 spent for a typical four-day trip. About one in 10 visitors took a cannabis tour to three dispensaries.
In Colorado, 6.2 percent of travelers said legal marijuana was one of the main reasons they visited, according to a study reported by ColoradoBiz. Colorado was the first U.S. state to sell recreational marijuana in 2014.
Marijuana tourism data isn’t available yet for Massachusetts, which allowed adult-marijuana sales to start in November 2018. Since then, however, marijuana bus tours, websites listing “420-friendly hotels” and lounges have emerged. Websites caution visitors to know the law before imbibing.
Massachusetts has 146 marijuana establishments, 73 of which are marijuana retailers. Sales so far this year are $434 million, according to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. Gross sales since adult-use retailers opened in the state are $896 million. The average amount spent during a store visit is $45.
Maine’s nascent adult-use market and tourism are expected to take time to grow, especially over the slower winter season.
“There’s got to be 100 licenses in the program to really get this kicked off,” said John Lorenz, owner of Sweet Relief on tourist-heavy U.S. Route 1 in Northport, one of the first of the six adult-use retail stores to get approved in Maine. “We’ll have to make a new name for ourselves with adult-use. It’s going to take time.”
Sweet Relief also has conditional approval for a cultivation facility. Lorenz plans to keep selling medical marijuana and recreational marijuana in two stores next to each other.
Other challenges for tourism are regulations against consuming cannabis in public and social clubs, leaving few options for tourists to either smoke or eat marijuana, said Charlie Langston, the managing director of Wellness Connection of Maine.
The group, which owns four of the eight licensed dispensaries in Maine, has applied to completely transition into the recreational market, which Langston said is expected to be far more lucrative than the medical market.
NPG, the name of the recreational business, has conditional approval for a cultivation facility in Auburn, product manufacturing in both Auburn and Gardiner, and four stores in Portland, South Portland, Gardiner and one location to be determined.
Still, Langston predicted tourism will boom once the adult-use market is up and running.
“The nation is full of cannabis-curious people,” he said. “I think there are a fairly high number of people who are interested in trying it.”