The launch of Maine’s new recreational cannabis industry could be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world.

The state’s first cannabis stores were supposed to open this month, but the launch was pushed back to June due to delays in the licensing process. Now it could be pushed back even further as the state shuts down non-essential services as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

There have been 142 cases of COVID-19 so far in Maine. All non-essential businesses have been ordered to cease operations as authorities try to stop the disease’s spread.

A memo issued by the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) states that medical dispensaries are essential businesses, meaning they can stay open during the lockdown. However, plans for a June launch of recreational cannabis stores could now be scuppered.

“While all eyes remain fixed on a spring launch of adult use, there are several factors that may force us to reconsider the appropriateness of those plans,” said the OMP.

It warned that several communities may have to postpone plans to allow stores to open due to the effects of COVID-19 on their communities. OMP added that it would be “abdicating its responsibility as a regulator” if it tried to launch an adult-use cannabis program that would run contrary to social distancing guidelines currently in force.

OMP promised that it is still proceeding “at full speed” with plans for an imminent launch, but said it would advise people as soon as possible if that no longer appears viable.

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that legalized recreational marijuana sales in November 2017, citing a conflict with federal law. However, his veto was overturned by the legislature in May 2019 and the bill became law.

Since then OMP, which oversees a thriving medical marijuana industry in the state, has been working towards a launch. Earlier this month, it announced that it had approved the first 31 condition licenses, including one nursery, four manufacturing facilities, 10 cultivation facilities, and 16 marijuana stores.

Licensing staff will continue processing adult use establishment applications, despite the coronavirus lockdown, and OMP expect that additional conditional licenses may be issued by as soon as Friday.

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