Thursday, December 12, 2013
PORTLAND - Cumberland County's first medical marijuana dispensary is expected to open this fall on Congress Street in Portland.
Northeast Patients Group, which won four licenses Friday to dispense medical marijuana, will use this site at Congress and St. John streets in Portland as its Cumberland County dispensary.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
York County may have to wait a little longer.
Maine awarded six operating licenses Friday for nonprofit dispensaries around the state, and one of the licensees plans to lease part of the former Key Bank building at 959 Congress, near the corner of St. John Street.
However, officials rejected all six license applications to operate a dispensary in York County and set a new deadline of Aug. 20 for the next round of applications. That could push back the opening of a dispensary in that part of the state until early next year. New applications also must be sought for the Down East facility.
Northeast Patients Group won the right to open the dispensary in Cumberland County, one of eight public health districts in Maine. The group, which has Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion on its board of directors, also won licenses to operate dispensaries in three other districts around the state: Augusta-Waterville, Thomaston-Rockland and Bangor-Hermon.
Remedy Compassion Center of East Wilton will serve Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties and Safe Alternatives of Fort Kent will dispense the drug in Aroostook County.
"It's a huge responsibility," said Rebecca DeKeuster, chief executive officer of Northeast Patients Group. "Maine is really pioneering something unique here and certainly all eyes will be on these first dispensary operators and we have a responsibility to our patients and the greater community to do it right."
In addition to Dion and DeKeuster, who has seven years experience working in a California dispensary, the board of directors for Northeast is made up of Winthrop resident Faith Benedetti, a member of the state's medical marijuana task force; and Paul Sevigny, a retired pharmacist from Holden.
The Portland dispensary may be watched even more closely than the others. It is expected to be Maine's busiest by far, due to the number of disabled and ill people who already live in the area or visit there for medical services and its proximity to the city's public transportation network.
The neighborhood is home to the Cumberland County sheriff's headquarters, Maine Medical Center, a number of medical offices and buildings, Union Station Plaza and an Interstate 295 interchange.
The proposed site is across the street from the Greyhound Bus Lines terminal, close to the Portland Transportation Center's Amtrak Downeaster and Concord Coach Lines stations, and on or near three city bus lines.
DeKeuster said the group now must complete negotiations to lease part of the Congress Street building. Mercy Hospital operates a diabetes center in another part of the building.
"I think it's an ideal property for our use. It's very accessible for patients," DeKeuster said. "It's a beautiful building and patients deserve something that's nice."
The fact that it was a bank is a bonus when it comes to security for the marijuana that will be stored there, she said.
"It is designed to protect valuables."
The building is in a downtown business zone where Portland city councilors have proposed allowing marijuana dispensaries. The city's Planning Board will consider that zoning change Tuesday. If the board agrees to the change, councilors could formally vote on the needed zoning change July 19.
"The council's been very supportive from the beginning," said Mayor Nicholas Mavodones. "You just need to talk to some of the people who need the treatment and then it's pretty easy to say this makes sense. Hopefully, we'll get the zoning in place and things can move forward."
Councilor David Marshall, whose district includes the proposed dispensary, said the site seems to be a good one for patients and he doesn't expect neighborhood resistance.
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