AUBURN, Maine — Remedy Compassion Center has been in business just over two years, quietly selling medical marijuana out of a former furniture store next to Craft-Mania in the Auburn Plaza.
Founders Tim and Jenna Smale won’t talk patient numbers beyond saying they’re on target for initial projections (655 patients by year three).
But business is clearly good.
Last year, they gave away a quarter-million dollars in discounts and free product.
Five months ago, Remedy got so busy it had to restrict new patients to residents of Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.
“We have some people who pass two other dispensaries on the way here,” Executive Director Tim Smale said. “At this point, we’re not able to serve everybody.”
Remedy was the first of the state’s eight nonprofit dispensaries to start serving patients. Along with a staff of 13, the Smales sell more than 20 varieties of medicinal marijuana. The strains have formal names — Trainwreck, Harlequin, White Widow — and in-house nicknames such as Remedy No. 1.
With the help of patient surveys, strains are flagged for specific ailments, such as pain, inflammation or depression, and for certain side effects, such as feeling creative, focused or tired. The marijuana sells for $13.54 a gram, or about $380 an ounce.
The average patient is over 50, female and on a fixed income. Most make two or three grams last one to two weeks.
“When their check arrives on or around the first, that’s the busiest time for us,” Smale said.
It takes a certified doctor’s note and state of Maine ID to get inside the guarded door at Remedy. The space is like a doctor’s waiting room crossed with a retail counter. Product is prepackaged, vacuum-sealed, bar-coded for sale and kept out of sight of non-patients.
The Smales grow everything they sell, the reason for slowing the recent rush of new patients. Growing plants takes time.
General Manager Jenna Smale said most patients come to them after trying traditional prescription painkillers that either don’t work or have disliked side effects.
With a commercial kitchen on-site, a “significant part of sales” are baked goods with medicinal marijuana-infused butter or oil inside.
“You can take a half a cookie during your meal and be able to sleep through the night, that’s a report I heard from an 84-year-old yesterday,” Tim Smale said.
Remedy doesn’t make deliveries but is considering it for the future.
Smale said he wasn’t aware of any diversion, or patients selling to the black market.
Deputy Chief Jason Moen said police haven’t had issues with the dispensary. Plaza neighbors, at one time, did complain to the city about the smell, so more ventilation was added.
Smale, who is vice president of the Maine Association of Dispensary Operators, estimates 10,000 people in Maine use the dispensaries and another 3,000 either use caregivers or grow their own.
“We also know it’s not for everybody, too,” he said.
He hopes the state isn’t on a path of legalizing recreational marijuana use — “What I fear, personally, is what happened with alcohol, what happened to cigarettes, it’s available on every street corner. Kids have access” — but would like some tax relief from the federal government.
Even nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries, Smale said, are treated as for-profit companies and aren’t allowed any deductions by the Internal Revenue Service.
“I can’t deduct electricity; I can’t deduce employee cost, packaging,” he said. “They treat my revenue as income. We’re paying very high taxes. It’s extremely steep, but look what we’re able to do as far as donations and the best prices in the state, frankly.”
In addition to offering a 5 percent discount to veterans, people who are disabled and people on MaineCare, Remedy has also, for the past two years, given a free gram of medicinal marijuana a week to those individuals, but only if they ask.
“Those who don’t need it don’t request it,” Smale said.
Product has also been given away in end-of-life and financial-need situations.
Smale, who said he puts in 70 to 80 hours of work a week, calls the business his life’s calling. He began using marijuana years ago to control intense migraines. He didn’t like the quality of the drug or the sort of people he had to deal with to get it and how they treated him.
“It was just icky,” Smale said. “[Here], you don’t get mocked; you don’t feel ripped off. That’s what led us to open this door.”