|Safe Harbor Maine is expected to open early next year in Biddeford, becoming New England’s first medical marijuana dispensary.|
Until two weeks ago, it appeared that Rhode Island would open New England’s first marijuana dispensary. Now it looks as if Maine will be doing the honors.
One of the two will be the first state in New England to open a compassion center to sell cannabis to patients registered in state-authorized programs.
“It appears our neighbor to the north will beat Rhode Island to the punch,” concedes W. Zachary Malinowski of The Providence Journal.
A spokesman for the Maine Health Department said the first of eight dispensaries across the state should open for business soon after January 1, 2011. Licenses have been awarded over the past two months to operate dispensaries in each of the state’s eight public health districts, according to the Health Department’s Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services.
Safe Harbor Maine Inc., a nonprofit organization, hopes to be the first to open early next year in Biddeford, Maine, not far from the New Hampshire state line. The business will probably serve fewer than 100 patients in the first year, according to Glenn Peterson, Safe Harbor’s CEO.
|Graphic: Oregon NORML|
|Until two weeks ago, it appeared that Rhode Island would open New England’s first marijuana dispensary. Now it looks as if Maine will be doing the honors.|
Maine is coming from behind to take the lead from Rhode Island. Until recently, it appeared that R.I.’s first compassion center would open this fall, but those plans were derailed two weeks ago when the Health Department decided that none of the 15 applications qualified.
The department said it plans to restart the application process next month.
“It’s not realistic to think that one will open before the end of the year,” said Peter Hanney, spokesman for the Rhode Island Health Department.
The first step of the process — collecting and reviewing the new applications — will take four to six months, according to Hanney. Then there will be at least one public hearing and a final review before a decision is made to open up to three compassion centers.
Vermont, the only other New England state that has legalized medical marijuana, doesn’t have dispensaries, and there is nothing in its 2004 medical marijuana law that allows for such centers.
Ten other U.S. states and the District of Columbia legally permit the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
The only states with officially recognized medical marijuana dispensaries are California, Colorado and New Mexico. While storefront dispensaries are operating in other medical marijuana states, including Michigan and Washington, they aren’t licensed by the state, but are more or less tolerated in some locales.
There is a big difference between the medical marijuana programs of Maine and Rhode Island.
In Maine, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question in 1999 removing criminal penalties on “the use possession and cultivation of marijuana by patients who possess an oral or written professional opinion from their physician.”
Maine’s medical marijuana law allows authorized patients to have up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and grow up to six plants. It did not establish a state-run patient registry.
Rhode Island, on the other hand, legalized medical marijuana in 2006 when the House of Representatives overrode Governor Carcieri’s veto of a law to allow its use.
The law allows authorized patients to have up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and grow up to 12 plants. It also established “primary caregivers,” or suppliers, to grow up to 24 plants to provide for the marijuana needs of up to five designated patients.
Rhode Island, unlike Maine, requires patients and caregivers to register with the Health Department.
There are 2,250 medical marijuana patients and 1,656 caregivers in Rhode Island, according to Health Department figures. The numbers have grown rapidly, with more than 300 registration cards issued to patients and caregivers in the past month.
The Maine Health Department doesn’t have patient numbers since the state doesn’t require patients to register. But that will soon change, according to Health Department spokesman John Martins.
The new law passed by voters last fall that allows for the establishment of up to eight marijuana dispensaries also requires patients to register with the Maine Health Department.
The registration requirement, which includes issuance of a medical marijuana ID card, takes effect on December 31