Maine’s Cannabis Black Market Shrinking Faster Than Expected, Survey Suggests
The state Office of Cannabis Policy has issued a new, survey-based report saying 64% of Maine cannabis used last fall appears to have been purchased legally.
As Maine’s legal cannabis market expands, its black market seems to be shrinking, and faster than expected.
A report released Monday, based on a survey conducted late last year by the state Office of Cannabis Policy, found that 64 percent of the cannabis Mainers used in the month before the survey came from a legal source. Only 36 percent was purchased illegally, according to the survey’s roughly 2,000 respondents.
Maine’s recreational cannabis market has been open for less than two years, but according to the report, it is already making more of a dent in the illicit market than expected.
It’s also punching above its weight compared with more mature markets, according to state regulators.
“The current instate illicit market is likely smaller than in most other states with adult-use cannabis laws, suggesting Maine is likely effectively curbing the illicit market at a greater rate than most other states,” the report says.
Dr. Michael Sofis, principal investigator for the study, said in a release based on the report that Maine’s adult-use market “may be considered an achievement in both public health and cannabis policy.”
Sofis, a cannabis demand and consumption behavior researcher, is a senior scientist at Advocates for Human Potential, the Boston-based firm hired to complete the study.
The presence of an adult-use store in a consumer’s ZIP code may make them more likely to get some of their cannabis from the regulated market instead of the illicit one, the report says.
It also found that survey respondents who bought cannabis from recreational stores did not report the same negative health effects (cannabis use disorder or driving under the influence) as were common in the illicit and medical markets.
The report is the first survey-based effort from the state Office of Cannabis Policy. The online survey recruited almost 2,000 participants from across the state between mid-November and late December 2021.
The 66-page report analyzes how cannabis consumption, market dynamics and health outcomes vary by region and cannabis market, among other variables.
Some members of Maine’s legal cannabis industry said they were skeptical of the report’s findings because the study relied on a voluntary online survey, but they declined to speak about it on the record.
The report will serve as a baseline for the policy office to measure the market’s continued evolution, said Erik Gundersen, its director. Gundersen said the report points to policies and practices that promote and preserve public health and safety while allowing legal businesses to compete.
Following the report’s release Tuesday, the policy office announced five town hall-style “listening events” across the state starting next month. It will be the first major public engagement effort by the office and will inform future policy decisions. There will be events in Biddeford, Waterville, Bangor, Ellsworth and Presque Isle.
“Maine’s adult-use cannabis industry continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the state’s economy,” Gundersen said. “My team is eager to engage directly with stakeholders and use this opportunity to hear success stories and challenges, and ultimately create better policy for improved public health and safety as the programs continue to expand.”
Maine’s rollout of legalized adult-use cannabis was the slowest in U.S. history.
It took almost four years after voters approved legalization in 2016, with movement slowed by legislative rewrites, gubernatorial vetoes, a change in gubernatorial leadership and the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, the market launched in October 2020.
Despite a slow start due to limited product and high prices, the market brought in just under $82 million in sales in its first calendar year.
So far, 2022 is on track to surpass that, with $51.5 million in sales through May.
Last month, the state’s 89 stores sold $11.8 million worth of product during the highest-earning month to date.
Portland Press Herald | Hannah Laclaire