In this March 12 photo at Full Bloom Cannabis' growing facility in Grand Isle, young marijuana plants are nourished with 24/7 purple-toned grow lights. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

Based in an old farmhouse on Route 1 in Grand Isle, Full Bloom Cannabis is about to become the first adult use marijuana retail dispensary in Aroostook County.

Owner and founder Steve Rusnack anticipates getting the final approval next week on Full Bloom’s adult use retail license for Grand Isle — allowing the company to sell recreational THC products to anyone 21 and older. His other two locations in Fort Kent and Presque Isle will remain medical-only for the time being.

It’s been a long road to this moment since the state passed a recreational marijuana legalization act in 2016. The opening of adult use dispensaries has been mired in regulatory holdups and then later, the pandemic. The first stores opened in October, but hundreds are still waiting on the sidelines.

“[It’s] the culmination of years of work,” Rusnack said. “Being now allowed 21 and over, it basically expands who has access to our products and who is available as customers out of the demographic of people who use cannabis.”

Rusnack applied for adult use retail certification in February 2020. It wasn’t until October that he received conditional approval, meaning the Office of Marijuana Policy signed off on the application pending local approval and final licensing paperwork.

With the go-ahead from Grand Isle in hand, Rusnack is just waiting on a final inspection. He said he’s “100 percent” certain that his facility will pass that inspection and then his adult use license will be officially active.

“The state has already signed off on all my plans and drawings and layouts, they’re just coming to do one final walkthrough,” Rusnack said.

Rusnack anticipates opening to adult-use customers at his Grand Isle location March 22. He credited his family, friends, employees and clients with helping him get this far.

The people of Grand Isle approved the sale of adult use cannabis within the jurisdiction back in 2018 — a decision which was relatively uncontroversial with most residents eager to bring in new businesses and tax dollars. Rusnack spent time lobbying for that outcome.

While the medical industry is where Rusnack has his roots, he said it’s limiting. Not only do some customers not want to acquire a medical card for work or personal reasons, but Rusnack said that he believes the vast majority of people who use cannabis do so medicinally whether they know it or not.

“I started using cannabis when I was in high school and looking back now, I realize I was using it medicinally back then,” Rusnack said. “I never had to go on certain medications that if I didn’t have cannabis I probably would have been on. I never knew that at the time because you don’t think of that kind of stuff when you’re 16.”

Rusnack said he does not favor marijuana use by minors.

“Although I started using cannabis at a young age, I do not advocate underage use, unless approved by a licensed medical professional,” he said.

Full Bloom is not the only dispensary in Grand Isle. Nearby GreenCrossCompassion, has applied and been granted conditional approval for adult-use retail, but is not pursuing it further out of concern that the cost of recreational marijuana would be prohibitive for its customers.

Rusnack was unaware of whether his regional competitors were pursuing recreational licenses, but he felt that being the first to the table is a major advantage.

“We’re in the least populated county in the state,” Rusnack said. “That’s why I feel really fortunate to have the only adult use license coming, so far.”

At his Presque Isle location, he’s shooting for a recreational retail debut sometime in April.

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.