WHITNEYVILLE, Maine — Two days after Whitneyville voters unanimously passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, the distribution company that everyone believed was coming to town announced it was going to Ellsworth instead.
“I apologize for any inconvenience to the town of Whitneyville,” John Montgomery of Portland-based Primary Organic Therapy Inc., or POT, said Wednesday.
Montgomery is the financial backer of POT, committing $500,000 to the project. He is an Internet entrepreneur, and founder of USCarfind.com, USMusicfind.com and Betterbackitup.com, and said POT will run as a nonprofit business.
Montgomery said that initially Whitneyville was considered “an attractive location because it is centrally located for both Washington and Hancock counties.”
The company changed its mind, he said, and amended its state application for the dispensary to locate in Ellsworth. He would not give a reason for the change in location, but said that for residents of Washington County who could not make the trip to Ellsworth to obtain medical marijuana — which for some could be a drive of more than three hours one way — delivery options would be provided.
Montgomery said the location change had been approved by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is monitoring the dispensaries.
Calls to the Licensing and Regulatory Services Division of DHHS were not returned Wednesday, and the approval could not be confirmed.
Montgomery said no other details of the company’s application had changed and he still expects to sell at least $2.4 million worth of medical marijuana annually.
Ellsworth City Planner Michelle Gagnon and Police Chief John DeLeo confirmed Wednesday that they had met recently with representatives from POT to discuss the company’s dispensary plans for the city.
Ellsworth has had a moratorium on dispensaries for about 10 months to allow local planners to develop amendments to land use ordinances to govern those types of facilities. The moratorium expires in January.
Among potential Ellsworth sites discussed by POT representatives in separate discussions with Gagnon and DeLeo were the vacant Quiznos building, the former NAPA site and the Hancock Rental site, all located on Route 1.
Based on the draft regulations being developed, Gagnon said, the Quiznos building would not be an approved site for the dispensary because it is attached to another building, in this case the CARQUEST auto parts business.
“Because there was so much attention paid to security [for the dispensaries] by the state, we thought that a dispensary should be a single-use operation in a separate structure with no other tenants,” she said. “We felt that security would be easier to monitor and manage in a single-use site.”
The NAPA and Hancock Rental buildings, which had been considered by earlier applicants for a dispensary, are both single-use, free-standing buildings.
At this point, the chief said he was not overly concerned about the operation moving into the city.
“It’s set up in such a way that it’s going to be pretty secure,” DeLeo said. “And the process for people going to get the stuff will be very well controlled.”
He said he did have some concerns, however, about the firm’s plans to offer a delivery service for customers.
“That seems as though it would be a little less secure, especially if you have POT on the side of the car,” DeLeo said. “I think that opens up the chances for some problems.”
Once adopted, the city’s regulations will ensure that a marijuana dispensary is done right in Ellsworth, the city planner said.
“We’ve done what we needed to do to ensure that this will be a compatible project with surrounding uses,” Gagnon said.
The planning department expects to present draft regulations to the planning board in November for its recommendations. The proposed amendments likely will go to the city council for adoption in December.
In Whitneyville, 31 of the tiny town’s 237 residents — more than attended the annual town meeting held in September — voted unanimously on Monday night to approve a 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Selectman Nathan Pennell welcomed the news Wednesday of POT’s change of location but said the town will still continue with the moratorium and research process as a protection for future development. A committee will be established to study the state’s rules and local land use codes to determine the implications of a dispensary and to designate a location within the community that would be suitable for such a business.
“We are working diligently to educate the [public],” Montgomery said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, marijuana has a stigma and marijuana patients are often viewed as criminals.”
He said medical marijuana patients are actually chronically or fatally ill with serious diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other ailments.
“The fact is we are dealing with people that are seriously ill or in great pain,” he said.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Montgomery said, adding that many people will not become comfortable with medical marijuana dispensaries until the facilities are up and running smoothly.