ELLSWORTH, Maine — City councilors on Monday night approved licenses that will allow Maine Organic Therapy to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in the city.
The licenses are the last step for the company, which expects to begin operations early in July, according to dispensary manager Gretchen McCarthy.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has authorized eight such clinics statewide, one in each public health district. But the Ellsworth facility will be just the second retail dispensary to open, according to John Thiele, program manager for the state’s medical use of marijuana program. The Remedy Compassion Center in Auburn opened a dispensary in May.
The Ellsworth dispensary, which will serve patients in Hancock and Washington counties, will distribute medicinal marijuana, but will not grow any of the product on site. All of the marijuana will be shipped to Ellsworth from Maine Organic Therapy’s growing facility in Biddeford.
Thiele said Tuesday that three other providers have been approved for growing facilities in Frenchville, Thomaston and Biddeford, but they have not yet developed the retail dispensary component.
The dispensaries, which were authorized through legislation approved last year, have been slower to develop than anticipated, but the number of patients seeking to use marijuana as medication has exceeded expectations, Thiele said.
“Initially, there was a lot of apprehension on the part of towns and cities and there were a lot of moratoriums put in,” he said. “The towns have become used to the program now and are not as apprehensive as they were.”
If municipalities were nervous, prospective patients were not. According to Thiele, initial projections estimated that there would be about 750 people who would register for the state’s medical marijuana program in the first year, which began when the emergency legislation was signed on Aug. 10, 2010. Thiele said there already are 1,800 patients registered in the program and the state continues to accept applications at a very fast rate.
McCarthy, the Ellsworth dispensary manager, said about 100 patients had registered for services.
“I think that shows that there are patients out there in need of medication,” she said.
She said she anticipates that number will grow once the facility opens.
Thiele noted Tuesday that recent legislation will remove the requirement for patients to register when it becomes effective in three months. He stressed, however, that the requirement remains in effect until that time. While some patients may choose not to renew their registration at the end of their first year, he said many will re-register in order to protect themselves by being able to prove that they are legally using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
He said the state Department of Health and Human Services has developed a uniform letter for physicians to use to certify that a patient can benefit from the use of medicinal marijuana.
There were no comments during the required public hearing on the licenses in Ellsworth on Monday night and little discussion among councilors. The councilors did seem surprised, however, when they were asked to approve not only a license for the dispensary, but also a city victualer’s license.
McCarthy explained that as part of the dispensary operation, staff would be selling baked goods — cookies and brownies — with the marijuana in them. They would be baked on the premises, she said.
The baked goods could become a significant part of the dispensary operation, McCarthy said.
“There are some people who don’t want to smoke it, and some who have lung issues,” she said. “This becomes a good alternative.”
Councilor John Phillips made the motion to approve the licenses which was passed unanimously.
“They’ve met all the requirements we’ve put forth,” he said.
The dispensary will operate from a new building on Carriage Way off Route 1, or Bucksport Road.
Because of the distance, particularly from Washington County, Maine Organic Therapy plans to offer delivery services to some patients. According to McCarthy, MOT is still working out the final details of the delivery plan.