Maine’s effort to extend the pain-relieving benefits of marijuana to cancer, AIDS and other patients with debilitating illnesses moved forward Friday as state health officials announced the selection of three companies to run medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
The state Department of Health and Human Services said the companies – Northeast Patients Group of Portland, Remedy Compassion Center of East Wilton and Safe Alternatives of Fort Kent – will dispense the drug in six of eight districts encompassing most of Maine.
Officials also said the selection process wasn’t over, and they’ll accept applications from companies to administer marijuana in the other two districts through Aug. 20.
“I was completely surprised, but overcome with a sense of responsibility,” Rebecca DeKeuster, executive director of Northeast Patients Group, said after the announcement that her company got the go-ahead to set up dispensaries in four districts.
DeKeuster, who has experience working in dispensaries in California, said she envisions facilities run by her company in Portland in southern Maine, the Augusta-Waterville area in the central part of the state, the Thomaston-Rockland area along the coast, and the Bangor-Hermon area farther northeast.
“We have a good plan, a good program. We just want to make sure the program is successful,” DeKeuster said.
While dispensaries will be legally permitted to grow, process and administer marijuana, DeKeuster said she sees that function as only a small component of the other services Northeast’s facilities will offer, including counseling and other therapies such as acupuncture. Northeast plans to have a growing facility in only one location and “storefront” operations in the others, said Catherine Cobb, the health department official who managed the selection process.
Maine has had a medical marijuana law since 1999, but it did not provide a distribution system. The process was given impetus by a citizen-initiated referendum that Maine voters approved in November. The law also provides for individual caregivers to provide marijuana under controlled circumstances.
Dispensary customers will have to have proof of a doctor’s authorization to purchase the marijuana.
After ground rules were refined, 27 applications from prospective dispensary firms were received by the state health department. No suitable firms emerged in two of the districts, in southernmost Maine and Down East.
Maine is the fifth state to allow dispensaries of medical grade marijuana for people who have debilitating and chronic medical conditions. Fourteen U.S. states have laws allowing some use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Dispensaries were chosen on the basis of a score sheet that considered such issues as security, location and availability of the drug, Cobb said. The committee that sifted through two cases of applications also was careful to rule out those that included “get-rich-quick schemes” to profit from the process. Cobb said the reviewers encountered at least one such company.