Seventeen groups hope to be among the first to open nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine, state officials said Friday.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services received 29 license applications from those groups before the deadline at 2 p.m. Friday. Some submitted multiple applications in hopes of operating more than one dispensary, or at least increasing their chances of operating one.

The submission of applications is a major step toward implementing the law passed by Maine voters last fall. It calls for a dispensary network to enhance access to the drug for registered patients with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.

A state review panel hopes to move fast, and will score the inch-thick applications over the next two weeks based on business plans, convenience of location, experience, patient education, quality control, security, staffing and other factors.

The licensing division of the DHHS plans to award the licenses for the state’s first eight dispensaries on July 9.

“Once the selections are made, the successful applicants will be able to go forward with proposals, finding sites, permitting, hiring people,” said Catherine Cobb, director of the licensing division. “It will be a while before they actually have marijuana to sell. If they got right out of the chute, they could start growing operations quickly and within four months” be ready to serve patients.

The DHHS will select one dispensary operator in each of the state’s eight public health districts. York and Cumberland counties will each have one dispensary.

There are six applications for the license to operate in Cumberland County, six for the license to operate in York County, and six for the license to operate in the district that covers Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.

On the other hand, there is just one application to operate in the Aroostook County district.

Applicants for Cumberland County’s dispensary, which is expected to operate in downtown Portland, are The Green Market Inc., Primary Organic Therapy, the Northeast Patients Group, the Maine Patient’s Center, the Maine Wellness Group and the Southern Maine Medical Clinic.

Some of the groups are made up of patients and caregivers who already grow medical marijuana on a small scale. Others are suppliers who have experience growing and selling medical marijuana in California and other states.

Each applicant had to pay a $15,000 fee, although groups will get $14,000 back for any unsuccessful applications.

After dropping off multiple copies of the thick applications in binders, cardboard boxes and accordion folders on Friday, many of the applicants said they were hopeful, and tired.

“My job has been working on this,” said Tim Smale of Vienna, who applied for the western Maine district under the name Remedy Compassion Center.

Smale said he and his wife, Jenna, spent nine months in California to learn about the industry.

Igor Rakuz and Brendan McGann of the Maine Wellness Group said the decision to apply to run a dispensary was personal, because both are medical-marijuana patients. They said they pulled several all-nighters perfecting their applications for the Cumberland, York and midcoast districts.

“I’d love to see someone’s application even touch ours,” said Rakuz.

Luke Sirois of Rangeley, who applied for licenses in the York, central Maine and western Maine districts, also was optimistic.

“There’s no one, I believe, that’s as motivated as we are,” said Sirois.

Voters approved medical marijuana dispensaries in November, making Maine the fifth state — after California, Colorado, Rhode Island and New Mexico — to have such a system.

 

Leslie Bridgers of the Morning Sentinel contributed to this report.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]