Taking a look at the Pine Tree State’s growing marijuana market.
The recreational marijuana market in Maine has been on a somewhat difficult and unique journey since adult-use cannabis was first legalized in 2016. It took four years between when voters approved recreational cannabis and when there was actually a program implemented to start selling it. Since then, the market has thrived, and companies within the legal recreational cannabis sector in Maine have been expanding rapidly in a state with one of the highest demographics of cannabis users in the United States.
Checking Back in with Sweet Dirt
Sweet Dirt is a vertically integrated cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution company with multiple dispensaries across the state of Maine. Since The Stash last checked in with the company, it’s become one of the most successful marijuana retailers in the state. Jim Henry, the CEO of Sweet Dirt, says the company has been fortunate to have great teams for licensing and compliance, retail, and construction and management, and every other step of the way. Those teams, he says, are accountable for the velocity of Sweet Dirt’s success. Sweet Dirt opened dispensaries in Waterville and Portland, which have both been doing quite well. It completed a 32,800 square foot greenhouse, which is the largest cannabis greenhouse in the state. That facility now churns out dozens of harvests each year. The company also now has a medical greenhouse as part of its 9-acre campus in the Southern portion of the state. A 9,800 square foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facility will be up and running soon, complete with a full commercial kitchen to create their new line of edibles. Their post-harvest processing plant is expanding too.
Henry says this is possible in large part to a small community of investors. “Cannabis is obviously really challenging from a financial standpoint. It’s really the first thing on everybody’s mind. But if you look hard enough and you are able to translate some of your success into good partnerships, then you can really have a successful endeavor.” He also says the company was fortunate to have made its way in Maine’s cannabis market early, so it’s been able to use some of its success to invest back into the business. “It’s not just about the finances, though,” Henry continued. “We are blessed to have an incredibly talented team of individuals on a number of fronts.” Jessica Oliver, the Senior Vice President of Operations for Sweet Dirt, says the company remains entirely committed to its brand, which boasts high-quality products that are created and sold in clean, beautiful facilities. “We’ve really put a lot of emphasis in maintaining continuity between the stores. We’re looking at a revisiting of our mission, vision, and values for our next phase and making any design tweaks, but we really want to keep it beautiful, high-end, earthy, and representative of our ethos in our growing practices of organic and clean-label.” Sweet Dirt is Maine’s only third-party certified Clean Adult-Use Cannabis Cultivator, a title given out by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Now, they’re working on two more dispensary locations that will open over the Summer. That’s the state’s largest tourist season, so the dispensaries are popping up in areas that get a good influx of tourists and residents alike. The other aspect of Sweet Dirt’s persona is that its owners and operators want the company to be inviting and helpful. Henry says he works the door at the dispensaries sometimes, meeting customers and talking to them about his product. “Inevitably, you see 16, 18, 20 different licenses from different states on any given day in the month of July here in Maine. And you really get this very broad spectrum of people that have been to tons of dispensaries and this is not their first rodeo – this isn’t their fifteenth rodeo, and then you get all the way on the other end of the spectrum, people who are not really canna-connoisseurs and they have never been to a dispensary at all,” said Henry.
He says he loves to guide people into the world of legal cannabis, showing them Sweet Dirt’s elegant and consultative approach to weed. He says people have told him repeatedly that their dispensaries made them feel safe. “From a pragmatic standpoint, people want to feel a certain way when they’re going to a store like this, but this industry is very new and it’s got a past. Of course, the past is not a justified past,” Henry added, “but they have preconceived notions and this opened up a whole new world for them.” “It’s a huge part of who we are, customer-obsessed,” added Oliver. “We put a lot of training into our staff and we want our staff to be proud to be part of Sweet Dirt. We tell them all that customer service is more important than our product, and the education piece of that to really help diminish the stigma, and that contributes to people feeling safe.”
Success Hasn’t Been Free of Trouble
Despite Sweet Dirt’s positive outlook and overall triumphs thus far, its success hasn’t come free of challenges. When The Stash last checked in with Sweet Dirt, the company was facing concerns and competition from out-of-state companies. That hasn’t changed; now, Sweet Dirt says Maine has been protesting what it views as an illegal licensing lottery that favored out-of-state players who gamed the system by using their finances and resources. “We believe the way they execute their lottery was a little bit less than compliant with state regulations,” Henry explained about a municipality in the Southern area of the state. “We also feel the way the lottery was executed really gave large corporations and large companies with out-of-state deep pockets the ability to buy as much opportunity to get a license as possible. To us, it felt like it was not a fair approach to business. Our legal team believes it’s not fair business practices. But at the end of the day, we also feel like it’s not a very good policy that would set precedent for the industry and quite frankly, it’s a part of our local municipality that we live in, and we feel like it’s not good for the constituents of that community. And it turned out to be kind of a cash grab.” The company has some legal proceedings disputing how the ordinance was drawn-up. “Early on in the days of cannabis, regardless of where you’re at, precedents can be set. When that happens, it can have a positive or negative effect on the rollout of the industry. We certainly are not just looking out for ourselves,” said Henry. “At the end of the day, we want to make sure what’s being done for the industry is the right thing.”
What Comes Next
Oliver says product development will be a huge focus for the company moving forward. Sweet Dirt just launched a line of edibles with a wide range of options. “We launched with three gummies that have value-adding ingredients for calm, energy, and sleep. We’ve got an amazing chocolatier on our staff who’s done low-dose chocolate drops and handmade caramel truffles and peanut butter cups. All our ingredient sourcing is sustainable packaging and sustainable, clean-label ingredient sourcing whenever possible. So we will be expanding that line over the coming months.” The company will also have topicals after it moves into its larger manufacturing space this Summer. The new dispensaries are still in the works. One, the company hopes, will go near the state’s Western border. Another would go in Rockland, in the state’s mid-coast.
“Right now, we’re not guaranteed anything. Nothing’s guaranteed in this world,” said Henry. “We’re working with local municipalities to understand all the specific requirements of their ordinances, and we’re highly engaged. One of those towns, we’re working through a specific part of the ordinance that we really need to work on before we move ahead. We feel pretty comfortable about the western border that we’re engaged in all the right ways. We’ve done a lot of diligence ahead of time to make sure we’re engaged, but a lot of times, things sneak up on you. You’ve just got to make sure that before you celebrate too early, you’ve got to make sure you’re knocking on wood, rubbing the rabbit’s foot, making sure you’re doing all the diligence correctly.” Sweet Dirt hopes to one day expand outside of Maine. Henry says as a proud Mainer, he’d like to show off the boutique product that comes from the state – product that he feels could compete with But he says right now, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level and it would take years to implement federal law even after cannabis is decriminalized or legalized nationwide. Thus, for the time being, Sweet Dirt remains focused on its local communities.