HARRISON — Trinity Madison sits at the picnic table at her campground’s common area, her mouth pressed to a bong. She lifts her head, breathes out a plume of smoke, and laughs. It’s 4:20 p.m., and for Madison, it’s just another day at the office.
Madison is the owner of Camp Laughing Grass, a newly opened, cannabis-friendly campground in Harrison for those 21 and older that offers traditional campsites, cabins and “glamping” tents.
Her campground is one of what some expect will be several non-cannabis businesses taking advantage of Vacationland’s long-awaited legal cannabis market opening last fall. Still, regulators say aspiring business owners should tread lightly in what is a “murky” and untested portion of the state’s legal cannabis law.
Camp Laughing Grass is, for all intents and purposes, “Not that different than a KOA (Kampgrounds of America),” Madison said, with the exception that “when we find you smoking weed, we’re not going to kick you out.”
That, plus the nods to cannabis sprinkled throughout the décor, such as the hemp soaps in the shape of marijuana leaves on the beds, or the sign in the common area that says “coffee sips and bong rips,” the smoking pieces available for sale and the volcano vaporizer that gets turned on at the same time as the coffee pot in the morning.
Camp Laughing Grass boasts 10 campsites, though Madison hopes to expand that to 20 by next year, including the addition of some teepees.
The camp is BYOB – bring your own bud – and smoking cannabis is encouraged. Drinking alcohol is discouraged, and smoking tobacco is prohibited.
Guests have access to the Crooked River for kayaking, floating and swimming. The common area has picnic tables, a fire pit, s’mores kits for purchase and plenty of board games, including Ganjaland, the cannabis-lover’s take on Candy Land, and a game called “Puff Puff Pass: the Card Game for Stoners.”
Campers run the gamut from “Trumpers to dirty hippies,” Madison said, and everyone just likes to “hang out and smoke.”
“Weed brings people together,” she added.
April Rollins is inclined to agree. She credits the camp with saving her marriage.
“My husband and I were having a hard time,” she said. “We’ve been married for 16 years, (and) we hit a lull. We figured a vacation would be good for us.”
The couple heard about the camp from a friend and decided to check it out. Rollins’ husband isn’t ordinarily a marijuana smoker, but she said they had so much fun on their trip that it brought them back together.
Now, Rollins works at the camp as the hospitality and housekeeping manager.
Aside from the help with her marriage, Rollins said she’s also grateful for the camp’s “come as you are” acceptance.
CAMPING ON THE EDGE
“A lot of places don’t let you medicate. I need it to function,” she said of cannabis. “Here, nobody’s looking at me funny. There’s no judgment. There’s a community that happens here.”
Camp Laughing Grass is only permitted to operate as a cannabis-friendly campground through a legal loophole.
Since Madison isn’t selling cannabis or operating an adult-use or medical cannabis storefront, the camp doesn’t fall under the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy’s jurisdiction.
Marijuana “social clubs,” sites licensed to sell retail marijuana to be consumed onsite as bars do with alcohol, are not legal in Maine despite originally being approved in the 2016 referendum that legalized recreational cannabis.
Under state statute, consumption is permitted only in a private residence or on private property “not generally accessible by the public” and with explicit permission to consume marijuana on the property.
Because of this, Madison was unable to register the camp as a public campground. Instead, the groundskeeper moved onsite, making the camp a private residence. She rents out the sites through Airbnb and makes it clear that she is not selling marijuana to the guests, nor does the cost of a site include any free product.
According to David Heidrich, spokesman for the Office of Marijuana Policy, Madison could technically offer free marijuana to the guests because of the camp’s status as a private residence, but by charging for a site it gets “murky.” He advised any businesses to “tread lightly” when it comes to becoming cannabis-friendly and to consult legal counsel before making decisions.
There are still a lot of “unanswered questions” when it comes to the law, he said, because it’s “simply an untested area.”
For her part, Madison hopes that one day the rules in the state will allow her to operate “without the loopholes” – she’d be happy to pay the additional taxes to run a fully permitted commercial property.
“Cannabis vacationing is a thing, so just give us a way to do it legally,” she said. “This isn’t going away.”
It’s unclear whether there are any other campgrounds like Camp Laughing Grass, though Madison said she’s not offering the only cannabis-friendly lodging in the state.
Until last year, when the pandemic forced owners to put an indefinite pause on things, Maine Greenyards operated a “bud and breakfast” – a bed-and-breakfast that serves marijuana, in Auburn. In Dexter, Cannacation offers rooms for vacationers seeking infused dinners and like-minded patrons.
ACCESS TO CASH A BARRIER
Madison’s dreams for the camp extend beyond the additional 10 sites and teepees she hopes to put in.
Winterizing the space may be in the cards, or perhaps expanding more – the next-door neighbor has expressed interest in selling some of his land. Madison ultimately hopes to turn Camp Laughing Grass into a sort of adult summer camp, offering drama classes and crafts.
But it’s not that easy.
Cannabis-focused businesses often have trouble securing a bank account, let alone any type of business loan.
“There’s no money in this industry,” Madison said, so she’s left with no choice other than to “save money and pay in cash.”
Despite this, she has always wanted to work in cannabis.
A self-described “rebel child,” Madison was just a “kid who loved smoking weed who refused to get a job where I could be drug tested.”
For years, her dream was to open a cannabis café or her own bud-and-breakfast. That dream seemed within reach just a few years ago.
In 2017, Madison was poised to open the Laughing Grass Inn as a sort of three-week pop-up hotel at the Cornish Inn, a longtime hotel in the town’s historic district. The idea was that guests would receive complimentary edibles, a “wake-and-bake bowl” and a 420 happy hour with both edibles and a bud bar, all at no charge.
But Cornish had imposed a 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana, and just days before she was set to open, residents voted to prohibit all forms of adult-use cannabis. Madison was ordered by a code enforcement officer not to proceed.
She said it was hard “living in a town where everyone knew me as the girl with the devil’s lettuce,” so she retreated to Florida for two years. Madison returned in 2019 when she saw the property in Harrison for sale.
A MARKET FOR INNOVATION
Chris McCabe, a Maine attorney focused on cannabis law and policy and co-founder of the National Cannabis Bar Association, believes there’s ample room for more businesses to become cannabis-friendly – and that they should try to do so.
The state has a relatively low barrier to entry for license holders, he said, and there’s a “huge market” for it.
“I personally love the idea of catering toward this,” McCabe said. “It would open up more tourism opportunities.”
The absence of permitted social clubs seriously restricts options for any of Maine’s millions of tourists who might wish to explore the state’s newly launched legal market, especially since most hotels ban smoking inside rooms.
Club advocates have said pot lounges would give tourists a legal place to use the cannabis they buy in Maine and keep it out of public parks and beaches. But opponents say club patrons must eventually leave, increasing the risk of impaired driving.
When Maine first legalized adult-use marijuana, the social clubs or smoking lounges were largely uncharted territory. But now, states including Massachusetts, Colorado and Nevada are either permitting or exploring the possibility of permitting such businesses.
McCabe is optimistic that Maine will revisit social clubs within the next few years.
They are still “novel” in the cannabis world, he said, and represent just another way that Maine can be a leader in the industry, something he believes the state should put more money and effort into promoting.
“It could be absolutely huge,” he said. “We should spend time to find ways to do something that’s innovative and new. … It’s bringing tourists and jobs.”
However, he noted that in order to do that, legislators also need to “write some clarity” into the law in terms of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed for businesses, something that’s currently lacking because the law is so “young.”
Madison is already seeing her business attract tourism to the state.
She bought the 17-acre property in December 2019 and, after sprucing it up, listed the campsites on Airbnb last summer.
Her sites have been booking quickly again this year, and Madison’s phone still hasn’t stopped ringing.
“The No. 1 thing I hear (when I answer) is, ‘Finally, finally, finally, there’s something like this open,’” she said. “People are stoked. People travel from all over.”