PORTLAND — State officials have told the Northeast Patients Group that it can open Portland’s first medical marijuana dispensary at the group’s preferred location, near the corner of Congress and St. John streets.

Whether the state-licensed nonprofit group will ultimately operate there remains to be seen.

The former Key Bank building at 959 Congress St. was called into question as a site for a dispensary because of its proximity to the Deliverance Center, which operates a church and a small private school. State law says no dispensary can be within 500 feet of a school.

Catherine Cobb, director of licensing for the Department of Health and Human Services, said she spoke with representatives of the Department of Education and reviewed the statutes that define schools in Maine. Cobb determined that the program run by the Deliverance Center, which is not registered with the state, does not formally qualify as a school.

“We felt confident enough in our review of the statute and our conversations with the Department of Education to give Northeast Patients Group the go-ahead,” Cobb said Tuesday.

Last month, the Northeast Patients Group was awarded a license by the state to be among the first operators of medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine. The group plans to set up dispensaries in Portland and three other communities this fall.

Rebecca DeKeuster, chief executive officer of the Northeast Patients Group, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

She has estimated that the dispensary in Portland will have 267 patients by the end of 2011. Based on what has occurred in other states that allow medical marijuana use, 1 percent of Maine’s 1.3 million residents will become medical marijuana patients, DeKeuster has said.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]