ROCKLAND, Maine — For years, very few people knew what was inside the seemingly out-of-place large brick building at the end of Main Street.
As a storage facility for an antiques business, the building was rarely open to the public, keeping the mystique of its treasures hidden behind a dated 1960s exterior.
But during the past year, Nick Westervelt, a medical marijuana caregiver, has been working on giving the nearly 200-year-old former Baptist church a third act.
His new business, Scrimshaw, is one part medical marijuana growing facility and dispensary, one part glass shop and oddities museum. And Westervelt wants everyone to come inside, even if they don’t think a marijuana business is the place for them.
“It should be a place to come and see how things are changing in the [marijuana] movement. It should be a center of the current marijuana dialogue,” Westervelt said. “We’re blurring the lines. We’re getting people closer to things that they didn’t think they could be close to, or, educating them on how to be closer to them if they want, and just furthering the dialogue.”
Walking in the now brightly painted front doors of the former church, one of the first things you see is the warm orange glow coming from one of the building’s newly built marijuana grow rooms. Inside the room are 30 flowering plants that represent 14 different strains of marijuana.
Scrimshaw’s two grow rooms, while climate controlled and not accessible to the public, can be seen through large interior windows that Westervelt hopes will encourage customers and curious visitors to ask questions and learn more about a process that has largely been kept out of sight.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine for about two decades, though there are a limited number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Further adding to the cloud of confusion and secrecy surrounding Maine’s marijuana industry is the fact that nearly three years after voters approved recreational marijuana, the state is still working to put in place rules for the system.
But Westervelt thinks it’s time, for him at least, to come out of that secretive environment and into a more open setting.
“Even people who are leaders in [Maine’s medical marijuana industry], you don’t get to see them with their full apparatus. You don’t get to see them in their element because that place is still a secretive place, and I’m done with that,” Westervelt said.
A native of Portland, Westervelt left Maine for college and ended up becoming a small-scale meat farmer in New York. At age 31, while going through a divorce, Westervelt tried marijuana for the first time at the suggestion of a friend who said it could help the healing process. For Westervelt, it did.
In 2014, he returned to Maine and as a farmer, he was intrigued by the fact that marijuana, as a crop, could be grown here. Initially, Westervelt was purely interested in growing marijuana and was not as intrigued by the retail side of the business. He became a medical marijuana caregiver, but the idea for a brick-and-mortar dispensary did not come until late 2017.
“There’s a much larger opportunity to educate, spread the word and start conversations [about marijuana] from a storefront on Main Street than there is from my Dodge Caravan,” Westervelt said.
In total, Westervelt spent two years working to open Scrimshaw. He spent the first year wading through state regulations and working with Rockland officials on establishing a local marijuana ordinance. It took another year to convert parts of the former church into a space suitable for marijuana growing.
Scrimshaw is the only medical marijuana dispensary in Rockland, and Westervelt said local officials did a thorough job setting up the city’s ordinance by involving the public and him as a business owner.
When a recreational marijuana system is put in place in Maine, Westervelt said he will see what his customers want before he decides whether or not he will incorporate recreational sales.
“I wanted to be on Main Street,” Westervelt said. “This is such a small town, and it’s clear where the commerce is. I wanted this to be treated like any other business, and I wanted a great location.”
Westervelt envisions Scrimshaw as something more than just a medical marijuana store. He sees it as a safe space to learn about marijuana and engage in creative communication about the plant or anything else.
While Rockland has been dubbed the “Arts Capital of Maine,” Westervelt believes there is not that much space in the city for creative younger residents. He wants his business to be a place for them, or anyone, to embrace their weirdness.
“There isn’t much encouragement to be weird [in Rockland]. I’ve been seeing people who are trying to be weird, and I wanted to be a little weird,” Westervelt said. “We are an example and a representation of a counterculture.”
Scrimshaw has been open since late May and a grand opening will be held Friday night in tandem with Rockland’s First Friday Art Walk.
The glass shop, which also sells CBD products, and the hallway where people can view the grow rooms is open to anyone. However, to reach the medical marijuana dispensary, a customer must be a medical marijuana patient.
But the four rooms that make up Scrimshaw currently are only part of Westervelt’s vision.
While it’s not accessible to customers, the former church’s sanctuary sits empty on the other side of the hallway where the growing rooms are located.
In the future, Westervelt hopes the former sanctuary can be used as an events space.
“People have been meeting in this building for 200 years,” Westervelt said. “They should still come here and meet and chat.”
Watch these 2 guys get high and describe their new magazine all about Maine weed