Orono may see new marijuana businesses open up as early as June, if those establishments can secure licenses in the next few months.
Residents approved a referendum during municipal elections earlier this week to allow medicinal and adult-use marijuana establishments to operate in town. This includes retail shops, testing and manufacturing facilities, as well as cultivation sites.
Though the retail sale of marijuana is legal in Maine, municipalities can decide whether to allow such businesses to operate locally. The Orono referendum passed 472 to 365.
Potential marijuana businesses must secure a license to operate in town, in addition to a state license. The town will start accepting applications for local licenses 30 calendar days after the March 9 vote.
David Milan, Orono’s director of community development, said he’s received a handful of inquiries from people asking when they can submit a license application since the municipal election.
The council still has to establish a fee schedule for licenses before the town will start processing applications. But Milan said he expects applications from at least three potential business owners.
Most of the prospective applicants he’s spoken with already have state licenses, as well, Milan said. Still, businesses will have to go through the municipal process and be approved by the Planning Board — which meets monthly — to set up shop.
If they can get approved for a local license by May, some marijuana businesses could realistically open up by June, Milan said.
For many new businesses, establishing themselves in Orono can be challenging because of its low business vacancy rate.
“I have people calling me all the time about potential spaces,” Milan said. It just seems like whenever there is an available space, somebody else has picked it up within 60 days.
This might not be an issue for future marijuana shops, as prospective business owners could find rental space that isn’t being marketed through local contacts, Milan said. “What we have seen so far is that the handful of people that have shown interest have chosen places to move into.”
Under the Orono ordinance, marijuana establishments can only operate in two commercial zones — on Stillwater Avenue near the University Mall and along a stretch of Park Street. It also prohibits marijuana businesses from existing within 1,000 feet of schools and other educational facilities that serve children.
Businesses also cannot be within 500 feet of places of worship, the university or another marijuana retail store. The ordinance was created to prevent such businesses from overwhelming the town, Milan said.