FRENCHVILLE, Maine — Residents have the opportunity to decide the immediate fate of a proposed, state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary during a town meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the community center.
Town building permits already have been awarded to Safe Alternatives, which this summer became the sole state-sanctioned dispensary for Aroostook County in accordance with the medical marijuana referendum passed by Maine voters a year ago.
Leo Trudel, principle of Safe Alternatives, says he is ready to work with town officials and residents to address any concerns his medical marijuana dispensary has raised.
“On September 19 I ended up giving an educational forum in Frenchville,” Trudel said over the weekend. “It was my assessment in reading the crowd that a number of people were in support and there to learn about it.”
But Trudel, who is assistant professor of business at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, added there were several other individuals vocally opposed to a dispensary within the town’s borders.
Most of those concerns center on the proposed facility’s security, said Frenchville Town Manager Phil Levesque.
“Most people seem concerned about safety and not about the operation itself,” Levesque said. “They want to be sure we can ensure safety for all the residents.”
At Wednesday’s meeting residents will be asked if they want to place a 180-day moratorium on the Safe Alternatives facility, retroactive to the date when Trudel first approached the town on Aug. 10.
“We want to work together with Mr. Trudel on this,” Levesque said. “We want to address all the concerns.”
Should the moratorium pass Wednesday, Levesque said, town officials would appoint a 10-member committee to review and respond to safety concerns.
Among those concerns, Levesque said, is the fact Frenchville does not have a police force. It depends on the state police and county sheriff’s department for coverage.
Trudel does not see that as an issue.
“They seem to be afraid there are not enough police to handle this,” he said. “There are a number of [state and county] police and sheriffs in this county. Are they saying the state police and sheriffs can’t do their jobs?”
Safe Alternatives was approved last summer by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the regulatory body for legal medical marijuana in Maine.
Initially, the dispensary was to be located in Fort Kent, but business costs forced Trudel to relocate the operation to a property he already owned at 479 U.S. Route 1.
Trudel stressed his whole reason for developing the business plan for a medical marijuana dispensary in the St. John Valley is the need for such a facility.
“There is a need for patients who do not find any relief in normal, over-the-counter prescription drugs,” he said. “There is a very tight list of individuals that can avail themselves to this based on ailments.”
These include people suffering from cancer, chemotherapy reactions, wasting disease, chronic pain and glaucoma.
“I really hope people, if nothing else, can come to the same realization I did when I went down to Portland last April for a medical marijuana conference,” Trudel said. “I was kind of ambivalent on whether I wanted to jump into this, but after seeing people literally crying in pain and learning how it changed their lives, that’s when I saw the real need.”
Trudel said he fully understands people’s concerns about this new venture and added he is more concerned by the direction the town officials are taking with a proposed moratorium.
“What they don’t understand is there are elements they have missed in putting this moratorium in place,” he said. “There are actually grave infractions on [the town’s] part.”
Trudel said the town does not have a legal standing to place a moratorium on his proposed business, much less making it retroactive.
“I’ve put together literally hundreds of businesses in Maine and Vermont,” Trudel said. “This is something brand-new, and it brings a lot of challenges, [and] the moratorium is just one of those challenges.”