BREWER, Maine — The Bangor region’s first medical marijuana clinic — the last of eight authorized in the state — opened quietly a week ago in Brewer and had a 30-patient waiting list, Rebecca DeKeuster, executive director of Wellness Connection of Maine, said Thursday.
“They called ahead and were waiting for us to open,” she said of the patients.
Wellness Connection of Maine is leasing half of the building at 221 Dirigo Drive for the approximately 3,200-square-foot clinic, which opened May 10 and is the last and most northern of four dispensaries the group is authorized to operate.
Wellness Connection also opene d a medical marijuana dispensary at 685 Congress St. in Portland in late March, and has clinics in Thomaston and Hallowell.
“We’re really excited and happy to be able to serve the patients in that region,” DeKeuster said.
There are also four other licensed medical marijuana dispensaries — in Auburn, Biddeford, Ellsworth and Frenchville — operated by different groups, said John Thiele, program manager for the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program, which is managed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services.
A decade after Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana in 2009, voters returned to the polls and resoundingly supported expanding the law to include more permitted medical conditions and to allow patients to legally buy from eight nonprofit, government-sanctioned clinics and marijuana cultivation centers.
The law was amended again last year, eliminating the need for patients to register with the state, Thiele said. Since then, the number of registered patients has dropped to about 2,400.
“We were up to 2,700 people at one time,” Thiele said. “Registration is no longer mandatory so people can register, if they choose. I can’t tell you how many people are running around with written certifications from their doctor who can legally purchase” medicinal marijuana.
The law was changed to protect a patient’s privacy, a concern for many since possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law, Thiele said.
Most patients are 40 to 50 years old and have cancer or another serious illness, DeKeuster said. She added the dispensaries offer the medicinal pot in a variety of forms — smokeable, cannabis butters, tinctures, baked goods and lozenges — to accommodate their needs.
“We have strains that … don’t have the euphoric effects that some clients don’t appreciate,” she said. “We have strains … for depression, appetite stimulation and we have … options that are better for muscle spasms, digestion, neuropathy or chronic pain.”
DeKeuster said there are also tinctures in which the active components of the medicine are in liquid form. “It’s for patients that can’t or don’t want to smoke,” she said. “You can put a few drops under the tongue or put it in some hot tea. Patients seem to be responding well to that.”
The Brewer facility and others operated by Wellness Connection of Maine are not open to the public. All patients must go through an intake process — to check documentation — when they first register, DeKeuster said.
Employees are not allowed to release the names of doctors who have prescribed cannabis, which is a common request, DeKeuster said.
Maine law does not allow doctors to be on-site prescribing the drug as they do at similar facilities in California and Colorado, where problems have arisen, Police Chief Perry Antone told the Brewer planning board in February just before it approved the clinic by a 5-2 vote.
“We’re looking forward to being a good neighbor and good community members,” DeKeuster said.