BANGOR, Maine — The head of Northeast Patients Group, a nonprofit organization formed to operate half of the state’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries, said the recent financial struggles of its California-based investor would not affect plans in Maine.
In an interview late last week, Rebecca DeKeuster said she could not comment directly on reports that Berkeley Patients Group in California owes $6.4 million in back taxes on the sale of marijuana. She did say, however, that Northeast Patients Group has a new financial partner, although she declined to identify that partner
“We are on target with our four clinics,” said DeKeuster, who worked at Berkeley Patients Group before coming to Maine. “I think we would have liked to be up and running sooner, but we understand that this is a process.”
DeKeuster said Northeast Patients Group already has leases on dispensaries in Thomaston and Portland and is close to picking locations in Augusta and Bangor. She expected the first clinics to open in May and the others by July.
The cultivation facility for Northeast Patients Group, where medical marijuana will be grown for all four clinics, has not been sited, but DeKeuster confirmed that it will be in Portland.
“A lot of it came down to zoning,” she said. “The town of Hermon was on the table [for a cultivation facility], but the town made it financially unfeasible.”
In the fall of 2009, Maine voters approved changes to Maine’s Medical Marijuana Act that allows for the creation of nonprofit dispensaries. Registered patients also can grow their own medical marijuana, which is used to treat a variety of chronic illnesses, including glaucoma, HIV-AIDS and some types cancer.
Last April, the state authorized eight clinics, one in each public health district as identified by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Almost one year after the state set its guidelines, no dispensary has opened in Maine, although Safe Alternatives in Aroostook County is preparing to begin delivering its product soon. Leo Trudel, owner of Safe Alternatives and a professor at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, was the first to set up a cultivation facility at an old barn in Frenchville. Plans for a dispensary in Aroostook County have not been completed, and Trudel did not return calls for comment.
Maine Organic Therapy, which will operate a dispensary on Bucksport Road in Ellsworth, is expected to begin treating patients on May 1 with medicine grown at a cultivation site in Biddeford.
Dispensaries approved for Biddeford and Auburn, to be operated by Canuvo Inc. and Remedy Compassion Center, respectively, are scheduled to open this spring, according to published reports.
DeKeuster said that because the clinics are designed to treat patients in a defined public health region, she’s not worried about the delay in opening any of Northeast Patient Group’s dispensaries.
“Certainly, we keep a close eye on what’s going on, and we communicate closely with other providers,” she said. “The Ellsworth clinic, for instance, will deliver product to the Bangor region initially.”
Bangor councilors approved a set of guidelines last fall outlining where a dispensary could be located. Although the zoning is somewhat prohibitive, DeKeuster said Northeast Patients Group is expected to sign a lease on a location in Bangor later this month.
She said the state already has received more than 700 individual applications from potential patients.
“We’re eager to get started because there is clearly demonstrated need and demand,” DeKeuster said.