By MICHAEL SHEPHERD Kennebec Journal

A state representative and former Cumberland County sheriff has quit the board of Maine’s largest medical-marijuana nonprofit organization.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, resigned from the board of Northeast Patients Group on June 8, citing tension between state and federal law regarding medical marijuana, as well as his workload as a first-term legislator and his opening of a law office in Portland.

A year ago, in a Portland Press Herald profile before his first board meeting, Dion said he found it important “to instill public confidence and immediately open a line of communication” with sheriffs and police chiefs who opposed medical marijuana.

Asked Wednesday if his goals were realized, Dion said no. “To say otherwise would not be candid,” he said.

Dion’s other goals as a board member included helping Northeast engineer “a security plan, not just for protecting the product, but also for screening prospective staffers,” the article said.

Those conversations happened, he said, but were never finalized.

He approached Northeast Patients Group Executive Director Rebecca DeKeuster last winter to submit his resignation, Dion said. She urged him to take a leave of absence instead. He did, but changed his mind in June.

Public disclosure of Dion’s resignation comes as Northeast Patients Group, which holds licenses to run half of the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries, struggles operationally. The group has yet to open a dispensary.

Last week, the Kennebec Journal reported that former NBA and Maine Central Institute basketball player Cuttino Mobley has a $2 million deal with DeKeuster — making him Northeast’s largest investor, with significant operational responsibility.

It’s still unclear whether the state will accept the deal.

On Wednesday, Catherine Cobb, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, wrote a letter to the Kennebec Journal saying Northeast wants to keep the financing agreement between it and Mobley confidential, as a “trade secret.”

The Kennebec Journal has requested the document. Cobb said her office is giving Northeast two weeks to show that it should be kept secret. If it does not, the Kennebec Journal will receive it Aug. 4.

DeKeuster told the Bangor Daily News in March that she expected all four of Northeast’s dispensaries — in Portland, Thomaston, Kennebec County and the Bangor area — to be open by this month.

But the only thing that’s running now is a growing operation in Thomaston. The growing center opened in June and, if the four dispensaries open, it will supply them.

In Kennebec County, the group has not secured a dispensary location in Augusta and has faced a moratorium and public resistance in Waterville.

As other dispensaries started opening in Maine, members of the Northeast board questioned why Northeast’s progress was slow, Dion said.

He said he didn’t have answers.

“Simple questions can sometimes have complicated answers,” he said. “When I saw the dispensaries come up, I was intrigued — curious that (other dispensary operators) could answer those questions so quickly.”

He said a complex issue with “latent hesitancy” by municipal officials is slowing Northeast’s efforts.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but medical marijuana is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia. That has led to confusion in the medical marijuana industry.

Dion said many board conversations revolved around “those broad policies.”

Now, Dion is working in his Portland law office, often with registered marijuana patients. He said there is a schism in the community: many want dispensaries open, while many want to stick to growing their own or getting marijuana from trusted caregivers.

“They see dispensaries as a retail effort, like what we see in a traditional pharmacy, or big pharma,” Dion said.

Northeast Patients Group’s website still listed Dion as a board member Wednesday.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5662 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

 

This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. Thursday to correct that Dion approached Rebecca DeKeuster to submit his resignation. It was an editing error.