The nearly century-old Route 1 rambles for more than 500 miles through coastal and northern Maine, carrying millions of tourists each year between Kittery’s crowded clam huts to the sprawling forests and potato fields of Fort Kent.
In between the blueberry museums, ice cream stands, beaches and lobster shacks, tourists driving what could be called Vacationland’s Main Street are increasingly likely to spot a marijuana store – 22 of them at last count, with a new one opening almost every month.
Not just any tourist can patronize them, however. Only those with a state-issued medical card can shop there. Maine voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, but adult-use sales are not expected to start until March, making medical the only legal marijuana market in Maine – for now.
Most of these shops were not even here a year ago. The first of Maine’s eight state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries opened in 2011. But it is Maine’s medical marijuana caregivers that are behind a wave of small retail shops opening since 2016, expanding patient access while pushing legal boundaries.
Some, like Beach Boys in South Portland, aim for a modern cannabis retail experience, with a brightly lit interior and a Dunkin’ Donuts next door. Others, like High and Mighty in Steuben, go for that Down East vibe, inviting rusticators to drive past piles of old lobster traps to sit for a spell on its knotty pine porch.
Until this summer, medical marijuana retailers sold mostly to Mainers. Tourists hailing from a state that allowed for medical marijuana use there could get a Maine-issued visiting patient card here, but only the most experienced tourists knew to initiate the lengthy by-mail process in advance of their visit.
Paul McCarrier of Legalize Maine, who operates 1 Mill on Route 1 in Belfast, lobbied to change