The Thomaston Board of Appeals voted unanimously Aug. 3 to approve Northeast Patients Group’s request for a conditional use to operate a medical marijuana dispensary on Route 1.

Northeast Patients Group Executive Director Becky DeKeuster shed tears of joy when the vote was taken and said she was excited by the decision.

“This is a significant step forward for the state of Maine,” she said after the public hearing at the town office. “This brings all of Maine one step closer to realizing what the citizens voted for.”

“We have a responsibility to the patients in Maine to provide medication,” she said.

DeKeuster added after the meeting that this will provide another option for health care in the area. She said it will create some new jobs and serve as an economic stimulus. She said people coming into the community to access medication will stop for gas and food.

Also present at the meeting were Matt Hawes of Northeast Patients Group and Bill Bird, who owns the property at 149 New County Road where the dispensary has been proposed.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced July 9 that Northeast Patients Group had been selected as the marijuana dispensary for the state’s District 4, which includes Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties.

DeKeuster said her organization scored well in the state’s review process for several reasons. The group identified Thomaston as a potential location for the dispensary because it is central and accessible to patients.

She also said Northeast has a strong security plan for the facility, which exceeds the requirements for pharmacies.

It was important to the state that the dispensaries be run by nonprofit organizations. DeKeuster said any extra money the dispensary makes will be invested back into the program or into other health care services for clients, such as acupuncture. She added that after the dispensary becomes solvent, which she anticipates will be after the first couple of years, it will be able to give back to the community through donations to food banks, or even police and fire departments.

“It’s more than just a dispensary,” she said. “It’s a healing center.”

She envisions the facility offering a variety of therapies for patients.

She said she has done similar work in California.

The Board of Appeals asked if Northeast Patients Group would be growing marijuana at the site. Under the law, the organization has to grow its own marijuana.

DeKeuster said it did not plan to grow the drug in Thomaston. Northeast had been looking at a facility in Hermon that could serve as a growing site.

She said at the meeting that Hermon has placed a moratorium on marijuana growing operations while it works on its zoning. She said her company is still working with Hermon and is also looking at potential alternate sites in Portland, which she said has good zoning rules in place.

She said her organization would know by the end of the month if it would need to grow the marijuana in Thomaston. She indicated after the meeting that she does not anticipate growing the drug in Thomaston, but if other sites do not work out and Northeast considers growing in Thomaston, such a plan would have to come back before the town for approval.

William Dashiell of the appeals board asked if the proposed facility is legal under federal requirements. DeKeuster said that under federal law marijuana is still a scheduled drug, but she said the Obama administration has stated it will not interfere with facilities that are following state law.

She said Maine has one of the clearest medical marijuana laws of any of the states that have approved it for that use.

DeKeuster also explained some of the process for receiving medical marijuana. She said a doctor cannot legally prescribe the drug, but the patient needs to get a certification or a note from a doctor saying the drug is needed or beneficial.

All medical marijuana patients will also have to register with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. That department will have oversight of the dispensaries and inspect them.

DeKeuster said security will be tight. The growing is to be done in closed, locked facilities. She said the Thomaston dispensary will have “man trap” entries, or two locked doors at each entry.

Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj said he would like to see security lights in both the front and back of the building. He said he would like to sit down with Northeast Patients Group and discuss security issues. He also said he would like to see a fence enclosing the property. The police chief said he was concerned about the field behind the building.

DeKeuster said the facility would be equipped with cameras and panic buttons. The organization may consider hiring a security guard, she added.

As part of the motion to approve the conditional use, the board added the requirement that Northeast Patients Group remain in an ongoing dialogue with the police chief.