Although this column started running last issue, we only just got around to naming it this week, so I guess this is the official premier of the first weekly print media column dedicated to the cannabis industry in Maine.
With that, some disclosure is in order. In addition to my role as associate publisher here at the Portland Phoenix, I'm also part-owner of NECANN, the company behind the recent Portland Cannabis Convention at USM and the New England Cannabis Convention in Boston every April. So, while I am an advocate personally, make no mistake: I also have a direct financial stake in the advancement and success of the recreational cannabis program in Maine and promise to never pretend otherwise.
Luckily, it won't be just my marijuana musings you'll be reading here every week; the column will feature thoughts, opinions, observations and updates from some of the most knowledgeable members of the New England medical and recreational cannabis industries. In the coming weeks, that list will include Becky Decoster, director of the Wellness Center of Maine, the largest medical marijuana company in the state; Catherine Lewis, director of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, the state's official trade association for caregivers, and Mike Cann, the longtime cannabis activist and journalist from Massachusetts. We'll also be running strain reviews, how-to tutorials on making your own tinctures and first impressions on other cannabis-related products.
In regards to the New England Cannabis Convention I mentioned earlier (April 22-23, 2017, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston), there will be two new components next year of particular interest to Maine growers and entrepreneurs. The first is the inaugural New England Growers Cup, which will judge local submissions in 14 cannabis categories, from plain old flower to concentrates, CBD oils and edibles. If you grow or know someone who does, this will be the largest such competition ever in the Northeast, and Maine needs you to represent! The second is the North East Canna-Pitch Slam. If you watch "Shark Tank," you probably know where this is going — entrepreneurs submit their cannabis business ideas, and the top entries get to pitch their ideas live to a panel of industry leaders in front of an audience at the convention. Details on how to enter both competitions will posted on the NECANN website in early December.
Beyond the winners getting swag and trophies to brag about, these two events will be about putting a spotlight on the talent and creativity of the people of New England. The more we elevate and cultivate local talent and ideas, the more money will eventually stay in the local economy. A lot of people are already bemoaning what they predict will be an industry dominated by huge national players, but there's no reason to believe that will happen. One has only to look at the amazing growth of the local craft beer scene here in Maine to see what can happen when creativity and quality challenge mass-produced products in the open market. Imagine what the beer landscape would look like today if Budweiser and Coors hadn't gotten a 100-year head start! That's where we are with the cannabis industry right now: It's wide open, and people are looking for a personalized, curated experience that complements their lifestyle.
All in all, it's hard to imagine better conditions for a thriving local market, boutique brands and products. Maine is perfectly poised to be first to open cannabis shops on the East Coast. Despite the recount on Question 1 (disappointing but admittedly appropriate considering the narrow vote margin), and the governor's anticipated foot-dragging and obstruction, the delays here will be nothing compared with the never-ending ball of red tape being produced in Massachusetts to delay the start of recreational cannabis sales there. Their loss will be Maine's gain, and from here those gains look HUGE.