PORTLAND — Northeast Patients Group has secured a lease that will enable it to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Portland.

Executive Director Becky DeKeuster confirmed Tuesday that her organization plans to operate a dispensary at 685 Congress St.

The property, near Longfellow Square and adjacent to the Local 188 restaurant, must be renovated and converted into a secure facility – video cameras and steel doors are just two of the requirements – to comply with state regulations for dispensaries.

DeKeuster said her nonprofit organization still needs site plan approval from the city’s Planning Board and a certificate of registration from the state.

Patients will be able to come to the dispensary to get medical marijuana and have an opportunity to participate in yoga classes, get massages or even have acupuncture treatments, DeKeuster said.

“We really want to try to build community in each of our dispensaries,” she said. “And part of our mission is to help patients with their total wellness.”

Northeast Patients Group holds four of Maine’s eight available dispensary permits. It opened a dispensary last month in Thomaston, it is opening a dispensary on Water Street in Hallowell, and it is negotiating a lease for a fourth dispensary in the Bangor-Brewer area.

DeKeuster said issues with local zoning, searches for suitable locations and project financing have delayed dispensary openings statewide.

Northeast Patients Group was awarded its licenses in July 2010 and planned to open its Portland dispensary that fall. But the opening was delayed as the organization tried to secure a site and experienced financial problems.

John Thiele, coordinator of the Maine Medical Marijuana Program, said he plans to visit the site in Portland to make sure it is in a secure location before issuing Northeast a certificate of registration. The certificate would allow Northeast to grow marijuana for patients.

Thiele said Northeast is growing marijuana in Thomaston. It may also seek permission to cultivate crops in the Bangor area.

Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said the city had to amend its zoning to accommodate medical marijuana dispensaries. The location on Congress Street is in a zone that allows such a use.

The dispensary will be in City Councilor David Marshall’s district. Marshall said he found out about Northeast’s plan on Tuesday. His constituents have not reacted yet.

Marshall said a Rite-Aid pharmacy and several restaurants are in the neighborhood.

“It will be treated like a liquor license applicant,” he said. “Once we grant the permit, we need to put some trust in the people who are running the business. I would expect the managers of this property to maintain a well-run business.”

DeKeuster said Northeast is thrilled with the Portland site. It’s on a city bus route and has more than enough space – about 6,500 square feet – to accommodate patients’ needs.

She said she doesn’t know when Northeast will apply for a site plan permit from the Planning Board, but would like to start operating in November.

“We are definitely fast-tracking this,” she said. “We know the patients have been waiting.”

Patients will be able to walk into the dispensary on Congress Street and receive their allocation of medical marijuana – no more than 2.5 ounces every 15 days.

An inventory tracking system will be installed to make sure each patient is receiving the prescribed dosage.

Patients most likely won’t smoke marijuana at the dispensary, though some training will be allowed, DeKeuster said.

There may be guards on duty while the dispensary is open.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]