State’s Newest Marijuana Clinic Recently Began Operating in Hallowell

HALLOWELL — The state’s newest medical marijuana dispensary opened Tuesday to the public for the first and last time.

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Wellness Connection of Maine hosted an open house at the dispensary, which recently began seeing patients by appointment. Now, following Tuesday’s public unveiling, only patients and their caregivers will be able to access the office at 115 Water St.

Since its first full week of operation last week, the dispensary has served about 30 patients, said Faith Benedetti, who works in patient services.

Eventually, established patients will be able to stop in without an appointment, according to Wellness Connection Executive Director Becky DeKeuster. She hopes that will be possible this spring.

The dispensary’s opening has been delayed several times. Wellness Connection, which changed its name from Northeast Patients Group last month, won licenses in 2010 to operate dispensaries in four of eight regions in Maine.

“It has been a really long road to get here, but we are celebrating the end of this part of the journey,” DeKeuster told the crowd of Wellness Connection board members and employees, city officials and media at the open house.

In September, Wellness Connection began accepting patients at a dispensary in Thomaston, which is also the location of the nonprofit company’s growing operation.

Wellness Connection’s dispensary in Portland is under construction, and a planned dispensary in Brewer is undergoing site plan review, DeKeuster said.

Thomaston and Hallowell have served at least 50 patients total, DeKeuster said. She declined to estimate how many patients Wellness Connection could eventually serve.

“We are well prepared to serve as many patients as need us,” she said.

Concerns raised recently about Wellness Connection’s medical marijuana capacity — including from a man once affiliated with its growing operations who says the Thomaston facility cannot support the anticipated patient base — are based on old information, DeKeuster said.

“Our policy is not to discuss cultivation facilities for security reasons,” she said. “The downside of that is it allows people to make assumptions.”

The Hallowell dispensary is on the second floor, above The Liberal Cup pub. Stairs from the Water Street side lead to a delivery entrance, but patients enter from the rear, where there is parking and a wheelchair ramp.

Both entrances are kept locked. Before being let inside, a patient must show photo identification and either a medical marijuana card or the original recommendation from a physician.

Wellness Connection will enforce a code of conduct, which DeKeuster said includes prohibition on loitering around the dispensary and displaying the medication outside. Patients who violate the rules may be removed from Wellness Connection’s rolls.

First-time patients will meet with one of two patient service providers at the dispensary to talk about their symptoms and which strains of marijuana may help them.

Some patients know very little about medical marijuana and may be nervous or intimidated the first time they come in, Benedetti said.

“We have patients who have been using this medicine for a very long time,” she said. “And this morning, we had an example of someone who had never used this type of medicine before.”

Benedetti said patients so far have been a mix of local and non-local people. Some had been to Thomaston, while others live closer to Portland and likely will start going to the dispensary there once it opens.

After the patient and provider decide on a strain and an ingestion method — cigarettes or pipes, oral tinctures or food, or vaporizers – — the patient can buy the product at a counter at one end of the main room.

The walls of the dispensary are bright green and orange. In addition to the main room, the dispensary includes a small kitchen, a room for massage or other affiliated services, an employee break room and a storage room.

Three people work there full-time and two others split time between Hallowell and other locations, DeKeuster said. Wellness Connection will hire more staff this spring, she said.

The medical marijuana was locked away on Tuesday during the open house at the request of state regulators, DeKeuster said.

But four cards on a shelf in the glass counter advertised the benefits of four different strains, which were identified by the numerals 2, 6, 7 and 9.

No. 2, for example, is “good for pain relief, deep sleep, relaxation,” while No. 9 leaves patients “very clear-headed,” according to the card descriptions.

Asked whether the dispensary offers more options than the four that were advertised, Benedetti said they do not discuss product strains.

DeKeuster said patients need to come to the dispensary for an in-person visit to discuss prices, which she would not specify. She said Wellness Connection is offering two price points, both lower than the $340-per-ounce cost originally projected in filings with the state of Maine.

“It’s an ongoing business,” DeKeuster said. “We’re in the trenches, seeing what is required to keep it up and running.”

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Location: Augusta, ME
Source: Kennebec Journal
Author: Susan Mcmillan
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Copyright: 2012 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Website: The Kennebec Journal