August 15, 2010

CEO makes dispensing pot her mission

Rebecca DeKeuster moves to Maine from California and shares a model for the medical marijuana market.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA - Rebecca DeKeuster doesn't act like a woman who has just cornered much of Maine's medical marijuuana market.

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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer Rebecca De Keuster, CEO of Northeast Patients Group, is the most powerful figure in Maine’s emerging marijuana dispensary business.

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The former high school English teacher is criss-crossing the state behind the wheel of a 1997 Chevy Cavalier. Her husband towed it from California behind a U-Haul moving truck, she said.

And when she finally pauses for a face-to-face newspaper interview, DeKeuster suggests the Augusta House of Pancakes, a favorite breakfast spot in her newly adopted hometown.

DeKeuster, 40, is the most powerful figure in Maine's emerging dispensary business. She is the chief executive officer of Northeast Patients Group, which has been awarded state licenses to operate four of Maine's first eight medical marijuana dispensaries. Its licenses give Northeast exclusive dispensary rights, at least for now, to the state's biggest markets -- including Portland, Augusta and Bangor.

Just eight years ago, DeKeuster was teaching in a northern California high school and knew little about medical marijuana, she said. "I was not a pot person."

Then she got a call to come home to Missouri because her father was dying from lung cancer. Friends suggested she take her father some marijuana to help with pain, nausea and depression, but she didn't want to risk getting caught by airport security, DeKeuster said.

"I watched him die knowing that if I just had the guts to do it, I could have helped him so much," DeKeuster said, wiping tears from her eyes. "It shouldn't be something that I'm afraid to tell you about. It shouldn't be something that I'm afraid to fly with."

Soon after that, she left teaching and took a $14-an-hour job as a salesperson at Berkeley Patients Group, a medical marijuana dispensary, and got to help other people, some with serious and terminal illnesses, she said. "It was an affirmation for me."

DeKeuster eventually became general manager, a position that brought her to Maine last winter to meet with policy makers writing rules for the state's new network of dispensaries. "We've been very open about sharing our model," she said.

She gave advice to the state's task force, as well as other groups, and began to feel invested in the state's new rules, she said. "It became harder and harder to leave."

DeKeuster and her husband officially moved to Augusta in March and she became the sole officer of a new group, Northeast Patients Group. The group applied for five licenses, hoping to win one or two, she said.

DeKeuster has since been racking up the miles in her Cavalier, working to set up the new businesses and a central marijuana growing facility in Hermon.

DeKeuster would not say how much she was paid as Berkeley's general manager, and said she does not yet know what Northeast's salaries will be. But, she said, she did not get rich in the medical marijuana business in California and won't in Maine, either.

"There has always been an underlying plan to share our mission," she said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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