State picks 3 groups to grow, sell medical pot

A marijuana plant grows in one of  two small growing rooms in Jim Fowler's home in Pittsfield. In March of this year, Fowler was busted by the DEA for growing marijuana plants, most of which were confiscated. Fowler who grows marijuana to alleviate symptoms of his degenerative disc disease, said he was unjustly busted, because he has permission to grown his own medical marijuana and is growing for several others. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
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A marijuana plant grows in one of two small growing rooms in Jim Fowler's home in Pittsfield. In March of this year, Fowler was busted by the DEA for growing marijuana plants, most of which were confiscated. Fowler who grows marijuana to alleviate symptoms of his degenerative disc disease, said he was unjustly busted, because he has permission to grown his own medical marijuana and is growing for several others. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
Posted July 09, 2010, at 10:34 a.m.

Maine’s unfolding medical marijuana program took a big step toward full implementation on Friday with the state selecting three nonprofit corporations to grow and sell marijuana for physician-certified patients.

Bangor, Hermon, Thomaston and Fort Kent are among the area communities likely to host marijuana operations.

By a wide margin, voters last November approved a system of regulated marijuana dispensaries for patients with specific medical conditions. State officials determined they would permit one such facility in each of Maine’s eight public health districts.

The state received more than two dozen applications — each accompanied by a $15,000 fee —by the June deadline.


View Maine medical marijuana dispensaries in a larger map

Northeast Patients Group, a recently formed corporation with its roots in California, was selected to establish four of the six dispensaries announced Friday. The state declined to name operators in the two remaining health districts, which include the Down East region of Washington and Hancock counties and York County.

Applications for those two regions will be reopened later this summer.

Subject to local approval, Northeast Patients Group will establish facilities in Portland, Thomaston, the Augusta area and the Bangor area. The company lost its bid for a facility in western Maine. That area will be served by the Remedy Compassion Center at a facility in Wilton, which is near Farmington.

Aroostook County will be served by Safe Alternatives for Fort Kent.

Meanwhile, Northeast’s anticipated siting in Hermon of an indoor marijuana cultivation center to supply all its dispensaries hit a last-minute hitch with the Town Council’s enactment Thursday night of a 180-day emergency moratorium. The moratorium could be lifted sooner if concerns are resolved.

Hermon Town Manager Clinton Deschene said the council acted in response to the “immediate impact on public property and public health” posed by the presence of the marijuana growing facility.

Under existing town zoning and regulatory statutes, the growing operation would fall under guidelines developed for organic farming, he said. Should a storefront dispensary be sited in Hermon now, he said, it would open under guidelines developed for a methadone clinic.

The council felt the need to more specifically consider and define the regulation of a marijuana operation, he said, and to understand its impact on public safety and other systems.

Rebecca DeKeuster, CEO of Northeast Patients Group, said Friday the last-minute moratorium in Hermon was surprising but not discouraging.

“Moratoriums tend to happen when people want to get their zoning right,” she said. She said she looked forward to working with the Hermon community to satisfy any concerns about the Northeast facility.

“We want to make sure we’re doing the best thing for patients and for the community,” she said. Despite a sense of urgency about getting the program up and running, she said, “we don’t want to rush into anything.”

DeKeuster said the company hopes to have marijuana under active cultivation indoors as soon as possible, using artificial lights and other indoor growing techniques. Northeast Patients has negotiated an agreement to lease up to 30,000 square feet of existing warehouse space from Dysart’s Service Inc. The warehouse is located a stone’s throw from I-95 and Dysart’s Restaurant and Truck Stop.

The new Maine law allows the growing sites to have six plants under cultivation for each registered patient.

“No one knows how many patients there are,” DeKeuster said. “We selected a spot we expect could meet our needs for the first three to five years.”

Northeast Patients also plans to locate a storefront dispensary in Bangor, DeKeuster said. Because the city “very sensibly” enacted a moratorium that will not expire until the end of October, Northeast Patients will work with city officials to satisfy all zoning and regulatory concerns, she said. The company also has considered locating the regional dispensary in either Holden or Brewer.

Cathy Cobb, director of the division of licensing and regulatory services in the Department of Health and Human Services, said the state used an objective approach to evaluate the applications it received.

Applications were scored on a number of measures, including their non-profit mission and business plans, their experience in non-profit management, their proposed security systems and their patient education plans. Applications had to score at least 70 points to be considered for licensure. The highest-scoring applicant in each region was designated the winner.

For those districts where no applicant met the 70-point threshold, Cobb said, the application process will be reopened. New applications will be accepted beginning April 20, and the state will announce the successful applicants on Aug. 31.

In the Washington-Hancock district, neither of the two applicants — Westbrook-based Maine Alternative Therapies and Scarborough-based First Sun Patients Group — scored enough points to secure the state’s approval.

Steven Moore of Maine Alternative Therapies said his organization would rework its application and try again, aiming to establish a dispensary in Ellsworth. A call to First Sun was not returned.

Cobb said she would meet personally next week with successful applicants to discuss next steps. The goal is to get dispensaries up and running within a few months, she said.

“We need to get this done as quickly as possible,” she said. “People are waiting for this.”

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