HALLOWELL – For nearly two years, Chelsea resident Deborah Hutchinson had to rely on the help of friends to procure the marijuana she uses to relieve spasticity from multiple sclerosis.

Now, however, she can drive across the river to buy medical marijuana at the Wellness Connection of Maine dispensary that opened in downtown Hallowell in January.

“It’s made it so much easier,” said Hutchinson, 58. “I don’t have to worry about where I can get it. Before I wasn’t sure when I could get it, so I sort of rationed it. Now it’s so easy to go over there.”

In a little more than three months of operation, the Hallowell dispensary has served about 100 patients, said Wellness Connection Executive Director Rebecca DeKeuster.

“Things are going really well,” DeKeuster said. “We’ve had good response from patients in that area, and we’re adding new patients all the time.”

Friday was 4/20, a day of celebration for marijuana activists and users across the country, with gatherings taking place on college campuses and in other public places.

Wellness Connection hosted small celebrations at each of its three sites, with treats and banjo music, DeKeuster said. At 4:20 p.m., they raffled off a marijuana delivery device.

Wellness Connection opened a dispensary in Thomaston last fall and another in Portland in late March. There are about 400 patients in all at the sites, DeKeuster said.

The nonprofit organization operates two cultivation sites and is expanding its inventory and capacity, she said. A fourth dispensary is scheduled to open soon in Brewer.

“We’ve done our forecasting, and we’re ready to bring our site in Brewer online,” DeKeuster said.

But there’s at least one report that some patients aren’t getting served because of a backlog.

Hallowell doctor Dustin Sulak, who certifies patients to use medical marijuana, said that of his more than 2,000 patients from around the state, he does not know of one who has gone to the dispensary just down Water Street from his office.

“I’ve had several patients tell me they were put on a waiting list,” he said.

Sulak said it seems that several Maine dispensaries are having capacity problems because marijuana takes time to grow. Many of his patients go to caregivers, whom patients can designate to cultivate up to six plants on their behalf.

“The caregiver community is really flourishing,” Sulak said. “My patients are going to caregivers, my patients are becoming caregivers. It’s generally a pretty hands-on approach; people feel like they get a really personalized experience, and it’s really less expensive.”

Sulak said he wishes Wellness Connection the best, and he expects they will be able to help more people in the near future.

DeKeuster said her organization started slowly to avoid overwhelming its capacity, but its dispensaries are now speeding up intake of new patients.

Augusta doctor John Woytowicz, who is Hutchinson’s doctor, said several of his patients have switched from the Remedy Compassion Center dispensary in Auburn to the Wellness Connection dispensary in Hallowell.

Both dispensaries offer similar strains and education services, Woytowicz said, but local patients appreciate the convenience of going to Hallowell.

Woytowicz said he has met all of the Hallowell staff members and found them to be very knowledgeable and experienced.

Hutchinson said that before she started going to the dispensary, she didn’t realize there were different kinds of marijuana. The staff there has worked with her to find the most effective strain to help her sleep.

“I think the prices are a little high, but at least you know what you’re getting and that you can get it,” she said.

DeKeuster does not discuss prices, but according to state officials, Maine dispensaries charge between $350 and $425 per ounce.

Wellness Connection, previously called Northeast Patients Group, struggled to find a location for its central Maine dispensary. It was turned down in Augusta and Waterville before leasing the space above the Liberal Cup tavern in downtown Hallowell.

Woytowicz said that as a small business, the dispensary can benefit Hallowell and its patients.

“The experience of having that among the others (businesses) shows that it’s useful and it shouldn’t have the stigma,” he said.

Hallowell city officials raised no objections to the dispensary’s location when it was proposed last fall, and Police Chief Eric Nason said there have been no complaints associated with it.

“The only thing that we have seen in regards to the dispensary is people asking us for directions to it,” he said.

Lynn Irish, owner of the Whippersnappers fabric shop on Water Street, said a few people have stopped at her business to ask for directions, but otherwise, “you wouldn’t even know they were there.”

The dispensary entrance is in the back of the building at 115 Water St. The door is locked and is opened only for patients and their caregivers. There is a long ramp leading to the door, and a handful of parking spaces are available behind the building.

Dale Smith’s apartment is across the parking lot from the dispensary, and he said it’s a good neighbor with light traffic.

Smith said he supports medical marijuana and the legalization of the drug for all adults.

“I think it’s just like if those people were going to a regular MD,” he said.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

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