By DAVID SHARP Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Mainers will be able to legally buy marijuana at retail shops on Oct. 9, the state announced Friday, nearly four years after residents voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The state Office of Marijuana Policy will issue its first recreational marijuana business licenses on Sept. 8. That will give stores time to harvest, test and package marijuana products for sale a month later.

“Today’s announcement is a major milestone in honoring the will of Maine voters and a significant step toward launching a new industry in the state,” OMP Director Erik Gundersen said in a statement.

Mainers voted in 2016 to legalize marijuana for recreational use for those 21 and older, but the process has moved forward in fits and starts. The state already had a longstanding medical marijuana program.

The pandemic was the cause of the latest delays. Maine officials decided in April to delay the rollout of legalized marijuana in the state because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

Gundersen said the delays ensured that the “new industry is introduced to Maine consumers in a manner that is as responsible as possible.”

“While we were poised to launch this new industry earlier this year, we were unwilling to sacrifice the high standards we have set for this program by launching during an emerging public health pandemic and in the absence of a testing facility,” he said Friday.

David Boyer, an independent marijuana industry consultant in Maine, said it’s been “a long time coming for adult-use cannabis sales.” But he said he’s optimistic that there will be no further delays.

“It’s time that adults have a legal place to purchase cannabis,” he said.

It took Massachusetts more than three years for its first store to open after legalization. Its first store opened in March.

Vermont also legalized marijuana for recreational use but did not set up a system to tax and regulate the sale of the drug.

In Maine, OMP expects to issue licenses in each of the four categories of adult use establishments: cultivation, products manufacturing, retail sale, and testing. The agency will announce the recipients of licenses on Sept. 8.

The licensing process is detailed.

State regulators must ensure applicants have completed state and federal criminal history record checks and that the establishment’s operation, facility, and security plans satisfy the state requirements. Regulators also have to check to make sure the host municipality has provided authorization to conduct business.

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