Outgoing Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion has agreed to join the board of directors of a group that has applied to operate five medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine.

Dion, who is leaving office Dec. 31, said Wednesday he was approached by Northeast Patients Group last month during a medical marijuana conference at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

He agreed to serve as an unpaid member of Northeast’s board.

“I told them I’d like to work on the issues affecting public safety,” said the 55-year-old Dion, whose law enforcement career spans 33 years. “I felt it was important to have someone from law enforcement serving on the board.”

Dion has long supported legalizing marijuana for medical use. He said he was the only police officer in the state who publicly supported a bill to legalize medical marijuana in 1998.

“Marijuana appears to provide relief for certain types of patients that pharmaceuticals cannot,” Dion said. “What’s not clear is the science behind how it works.”

Now, he becomes the first law enforcement official in Maine to commit to working on behalf of an organization that may be distributing a substance still considered illegal under federal law.

“I see this as a groundbreaking opportunity. No one else in law enforcement in Maine is doing this,” Dion said.

Dion hopes to serve as a ‘bridge’ between the pot dispensaries and law enforcement agencies.

“This is not like methadone clinics, which have created an adversarial relationship with the police,” Dion said.

If Northeast Patients Group was accused of a crime or adopted an illegal policy, Dion said, he would have to step down from the board.

He does not see his new post posing a conflict of interest.

“As long as I am the sitting sheriff I won’t take any compensation,” Dion said. “It would invalidate my role.”

Dion, who has been sheriff for 12 years, says he and another lawyer plan to open a law practice on India Street in Portland in August.

“In essence, I’m almost like internal oversight. It’s an opportunity for law enforcement to have their boots on the ground,” he said.

Becky DeKeuster, executive director and chief executive officer of Northeast Patients Group, said her organization is fortunate to have Dion on board.

“Sheriff Dion has a great deal of experience and a sensible attitude,” DeKeuster said. “He wants to see this done correctly in Maine.”

Dion is not the only public official who might serve on a medical marijuana dispensary board.

Cannacorp Inc., which hopes to operate Southern Maine Medicinal Clinic, lists State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, as a board member.

The dispensaries must be operated as nonprofits, but there are no limits on how much officers or directors can be paid.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]