PORTLAND – A group that plans to operate a medical marijuana dispensary on Congress Street may have to use another site.

Northeast Patients Group has identified a brick and granite building at Congress and St. John streets as its preferred site for Portland’s first medical marijuana dispensary, which it plans to open in December.

But that property appears to be within 500 feet of the Deliverance Center, a church that takes in drug addicts and alcoholics and happens to house a small and little-known private school, the Christian Academy of Portland.

State rules require that licensed dispensaries be at least 500 feet from any “pre-existing public or private school boundary.”

“We’ll keep investigating,” Rebecca DeKeuster, chief operating officer of Northeast Patients Group, said after learning of the school’s existence Wednesday. “If the property doesn’t meet the state standard, obviously we would not set up in that site.”

DeKeuster said the group thoroughly researched the area but didn’t know about the school, which offers a Pentecostal curriculum from kindergarten through high school to students who attend the church. She said she was aware that the church had a Bible school for adults, but determined that would not disqualify the Congress Street site.

Northeast Patients Group, which last week won the state license to operate a dispensary in Portland, had already identified alternative sites, including 95 Preble St. It doesn’t expect any problem in finding a suitable location, DeKeuster said.

Although the Christian Academy of Portland can be found through Internet searches, there are no signs on the building and the school is so small that it didn’t even operate last year.

The Rev. Stephen Reynolds said he expects an enrollment of four or five students this fall, and that the school has operated almost every year since 1978.

Reynolds didn’t know that the church’s school could alter plans for a dispensary in the neighborhood, but he will be relieved if it does, he said.

Reynolds said he has seen the destructive side of marijuana and other drugs while working to restore lives shattered by substance abuse, and he’s convinced that Maine’s medical marijuana law is a mistake.

Medical marijuana advocates “are trying to help people who are hurting, (but) one thing leads to another,” he said. “To them it’s better than heroin and cocaine, but it’s just a step away from it.”

The church and school are at 1008 Congress St., next to the Cumberland County Jail. Northeast Patients Group chose the building at 959 Congress St. as its preferred site, though it has not signed a lease for the space.

Maps and satellite images show that the two properties are within 500 feet of each other, but city and state officials didn’t know about the school and had not checked official property maps as of Wednesday.

A leader of a competing group that hoped to win the right to operate Portland’s dispensary said its members quickly identified the school after the dispensary site was announced, and even measured the distance on the ground.

Brendan McGann, director of the Maine Wellness Group, said the properties are only 428 feet apart.

He said the problem with the preferred location means the winning application was flawed and the process for selecting a dispensary operator in Portland should start over.

The state won’t reopen the application process over the school issue, said Kathy Bubar, deputy commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Certainly if there is a school within 500 feet, we would ask them to relocate,” Bubar said. “That’s certainly not disqualifying.”

DeKeuster said she plans to meet with neighbors of the site, such as Reynolds, to address any concerns that the dispensary would do more harm than good.

 

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