Northeast Patients Group snares four of six marijuana dispensary licenses
Augusta — Northeast Patients Group, a nonprofit corporation with roots in California, was granted permission by the state Friday, July 9, to operate four medical marijuana dispensaries in different parts of the state.
Six dispensaries were granted permission to operate in Maine’s eight public-health districts. Applications in two districts were deemed deficient — District 1 (York County) and District 7 (Washington and Hancock counties). There were six applicants in District 1 and two applicants in District 7.
“We are reopening the application process in these districts,” said Cathy Cobb, director of the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “Those who were not selected can make changes to their plans and re-apply.
Cobb said the deadline to re-apply is Friday, Aug. 20. Applicants who failed to be approved would forfeit $1,000 of their $15,000 application fee.
A total of 27 applications were reviewed by a four-member panel.
Northeast Patients Group won permission to operate marijuana dispensaries in Portland (District 2), Thomaston (District 4), Waterville or Augusta (District 5) and Hermon (District 6).
Remedy Compassion Center beat out a fifth application by Northeast Patients Group in District 3 and won the right to operate a dispensary in East Wilton. Safe Alternatives of Fort Kent won the right to run a dispensary in Fort Kent Mills.
“I appreciate the many hours that the panel and our licensing staff have dedicated to this work and to adhering to this aggressive time schedule,” said DHHS Commissioner Brenda Harvey.
A dispensary system has been established to assist registered patients whose physicians believe they will benefit from the medical use of marijuana for certain serious medical conditions.
The dispensaries were the result of a citizen-initiated referendum approved in November 2009 by Maine voters.
Applications were scored on criteria that included their plan to operate as a nonprofit corporation over the long term, convenience of location, prior business experience, patient education, record-keeping, inventory and quality control.
The minimum required score was 70.
Meeting with reporters at the DHHS building at the Augusta Business Park, Cobb said, “I think the public is going to be impressed with the security measures. They range from perimeter fencing to electronic strips around doors. Without proper security, we could be losing great ounces of marijuana.”
“They’ve taken the transportation issue very seriously,” Cobb said. “These are their employees, and there is some danger involved.”
Cobb said patients could designate any dispensary they wanted from which to get marijuana and she expected it would take between two and four months for the first dispensaries to open. She plans to meet with the successful applicants within a week to discuss such issues as whether Northeast Patients Group plans to locate its dispensary in Waterville or Augusta.
Among deficiencies that eliminated applicants in districts 1 and 7, Cobb mentioned minimal security and no mention of what they were planning to do with net income.
“Some showed too much profit," said Cobb. "One showed a $24 million profit in the second year."
She said the state estimates, based on the six applicants approved so far, that there would be 2,200 patients using marijuana by the second year of operation of the dispensaries.
The application by Northeast Patients Group for District 5 (Kennebec and Somerset counties) is 170 pages long. A look at some of the pertinent pages gives a picture of this corporation that will have so much of the medical marijuana business in Maine.
It was founded by Becky DeKeuster and Tim Schick, two directors of the Berkeley (Calif.) Patients Group that was formed in 1999 by a group of medical marijuana patients and advocates.
The Berkeley group offers massage, acupuncture and individual counseling as well as social activities such as knitting, quilting, art, yoga, literacy tutoring, guest lectures and educational programs. In 2009, the Berkeley group donated $250,000 to charitable causes.
In Maine, attorney Dan Walker of the law firm of Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau is general counsel for Northeast Patients Group. Walker is assisted by Preti, Flaherty attorney John Doyle, who is chairman of the law firm’s Health Law Practice Group.
Schick is a consultant to Northeast Patients Group. The group’s board of directors includes DeKeuster, who has moved from California to Augusta, as chief operating officer.
Also on the board is Mark Dion, outgoing sheriff of Cumberland County, who for 21 years was a Portland police officer.
Board member Faith Benedetti of Winthrop worked on the medical marijuana initiative and was appointed to the governor’s task force to help implement the law. She is an ordained minister.
The final member of the board is Paul Sevigny, a registered pharmacist, who was chief operating officer of Affiliated Pharmacy Services Inc., part of Eastern Maine Healthcare System in Bangor, until his retirement earlier this year.
Matt Hawes of the Brewer area will supervise the cultivation of marijuana for Northeast Patients Group at a centralized facility at 601 Coldbrook Road in Hermon, also the site for the District 6 dispensary serving Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
DeKeuster said Friday in a press release that Northeast plans to begin serving patients in November. She said part of the reason that Northeast identified sites in both Waterville and Augusta in District 5 is that Augusta imposed zoning conditions requiring any marijuana dispensary to be located in its medical zone near the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care.
"Unfortunately, this limited the number of properly zoned existing buildings that potential applicants could lease, and placed a limit on patient accessibility until the new highway exit is completed," said DeKeuster. She said Northeast also identified a clinic space in Waterville. It might take several weeks to finalize locations.
In District 5, Northeast estimated in its first full year of operation, from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, its total revenues would be $702,000. That figure will climb to more than $1.5 million in the second full year of operation, Northeast estimates.
Northeast estimated it would have 155 certified marijuana patients in its first full year of operation in District 5 and 258 patients in the second year. The firm estimated it would be selling marijuana for $340 per ounce.
Besides the previously mentioned District 6 facility in Hermon, locations of the other five dispensaries approved Friday follow:
• District 2 (Cumberland County), 959 Congress St., Portland
• District 3 (Franklin, Oxford, Androscoggin counties), 932 Route 2, East Wilton
• District 4 (Waldo, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Knox counties), 153 New County Rd., Thomaston
• District 5 (Kennebec, Somerset counties), 10 Middle Rd., Augusta, or 13 Water St., Waterville
• District 8 (Aroostook County), 267 Main St., Fort Kent Mills