One of the groups working to set up Maine’s first medical marijuana dispensaries is toning down its business plan after complaints from state officials and others.

Primary Organic Therapy Inc., which plans to open a dispensary in Ellsworth, cut off a telemarketing campaign earlier this month after residents complained to the state about its computerized calls offering to help obtain the drug. The company — POT Inc. for short — also plans to change its name to avoid offending people, it says.

Other groups working to set up the eight storefront dispensaries have been more discreet but have still run into local resistance and other complications. Most now are expected to open early next year.

Maine legalized the medical use of marijuana a decade ago, and voters last fall approved a new law allowing a network of storefront dispensaries to expand access to the drug for qualified patients.

State officials chose five groups to operate eight dispensaries around the state, including one in Portland and one in Biddeford.

The operators of the Portland dispensary, Northeast Patients Group, now expect to open in the spring, according to Becky DeKeuster, its chief executive officer.

DeKeuster declined to say, however, if a final site has been chosen for the dispensary.

“They haven’t signed any leases yet,” said John Thiele, project manager for the Maine Use of Medical Marijuana Program.

Northeast Patients Group has been delayed in part because the town of Hermon, where it planned to cultivate marijuana for dispensaries in or near Portland, Augusta, Bangor and Thomaston, temporarily banned such an operation while drafting local rules.

The town more recently has been discussing a $10,000 startup fee and $5,000 annual renewal fees.

Local moratoriums also have slowed down plans in other parts of the state.

“I just think a lot of towns, when push came to shove and they saw that it was an actual reality, said, ‘We don’t have any regulations on this,’ and declared a moratorium,” Thiele said.

The group planning to operate in Biddeford, Safe Harbor, has identified a site near Southern Maine Medical Center that is within a city-approved zone for medical marijuana.

But it is not yet ready to start cultivating plants, Thiele said, and that means the dispensary opening is still months away.

It is expected to take at least a couple of months of growing to produce enough marijuana to open.

The only dispensary close to actually growing marijuana is Safe Alternatives in Frenchville.

The operator has converted a barn in the rural Aroostook County town into a secure growing and dispensing facility, and last week the facility was inspected and approved by the state.

“That’s the only one that is doing their cultivation right now,” Thiele said.

The group that is now focusing on a dispensary in Ellsworth moved there after local officials in Whitneyville adopted a moratorium there.

But that hasn’t been Primary Organic Therapy’s only false start.

It shut down a telemarketing campaign earlier this month after complaints about automated calls to tens of thousands of homes around the state. The calls said the company could help residents obtain marijuana and asked them to use the phone keypad to indicate if they wanted more information.

“We had complaints from the public and from some of the other dispensary operators who received calls,” said Catherine Cobb, head of the licensing division for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “Those calls could be received by children, and it wasn’t an appropriate way to reach out to the public.”

Cobb said the company stopped the cold calls within 48 hours.

It has since been calling back the households that pushed a button to indicate they wanted more information.

Cobb said the state didn’t order the company to change its name, but she was among those who raised the issue.

“I made the observation having the acronym for their business of POT Inc. may not reflect on them as well as they’d like,” she said. “Everybody wants this to be a program that’s received well.”

John Montgomery, an investor in Primary Organic Therapy, said the company’s calls were not aggressive and generated thousands of positive responses, including people who wanted more information.

“You get a handful of people who are offended,” he said. “We got an overwhelming response.”

He said the company quickly ended the telemarketing campaign when it learned about the complaints. He also said the company will announce a name change this week, though he would not say what the new name will be.

“We felt it was a good name. We felt it was catchy and good for marketing.” But, he said, “we are not here to offend.”

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]