BIDDEFORD, Maine A type of store Massachusetts has never seen before could soon be opening in a neighborhood near you: a medical marijuana dispensary. The new state law that went into effect last month allows up to 35 of them. And some communities, worried they’ll be a negative influence, are trying to ban these businesses.
In the state of Maine, eight dispensaries have opened over the last couple of years. So we visited one in the city of Biddeford to see how it works.
We found that although the names of the two dozen strains of marijuana sold there — names like Plushberry, Qrazy Train, Querkle, Space Bomb and Sweet Island Skunk, which are standard names nationwide — are pretty irreverent, the dispensary is otherwise quite low-key. In fact, the Biddeford police chief didn’t even realize it was there until we called him to ask if it has attracted any law enforcement attention. For the record, it hasn’t. It’s in a nondescript commercial condominium building along with several doctors’ offices. The only indication of a dispensary is a plain little sign that reads Canuvo. It’s a made-up name that combines the words “cannabis” and “new.”
“We try and keep a very low profile,” says Canuvo owner Glenn Peterson, a rebellious-looking middle-aged guy with a shaved head and goatee. “There’s enough controversy without having neon marijuana signs flashing.”
Peterson says he hunted for a location for his dispensary for a year and kept striking out with hesitant landlords, banks and zoning boards. Finally, despite the objections of some of the other tenants, he bought the condo in the complex he’s now located in and opened for business. And he says he later helped fight –successfully — for a change in state law to prohibit towns from banning dispensaries.
At first glance, the dispensary looks like a doctor’s office and, according to Peterson, it used to be a new mother’s clinic — although most doctors’ offices don’t have so much security. We’re buzzed through several locked doors to enter the place, and multiple security cameras monitor the property. Watching over them is office manager Chuck Neal.
“I just monitor who’s coming in, making sure it’s a patient I know,” Neal explains. “We have to monitor that children aren’t allowed in with their parents.”
Patients need a doctor’s approval to buy the dispensary’s marijuana, which Peterson grows on a separate property about an hour away. In the so-called dispensing rooms, there are display cases of pipes and grinders for sale, and stackable plastic drawers filled with jars and bags of dried marijuana. This pot isn’t just for smoking. Patients can vaporize it using a device similar to an asthma inhaler. They can eat or drink one of Canuvo’s homemade medical marijuana edibles, from chocolates to Rice Krispies squares to tea. A big chalkboard lists the specials of the day, including cannabis butter. Patients spread the butter on toast or spaghetti and then have a “medicated meal,” according to Peterson.
When the dispensary opens for patients, there’s a steady flow. One of them is 33-year-old Josh Goulette of Windham, Maine. He says he uses marijuana to treat back pain.
“I did hard-scape, so a lot of rock work, lifting,” Goulette explains. “Injured my back a few different times doing that and took some pain medicine for that that was prescribed from the doctor. But it’s a lot more addictive, and it caused more problems for me.”
Asked if he ever feels that he has to explain medical marijuana’s benefits to skeptical family and friends, Goulette says yes. As for how he deals with that, Goulette responds, “I don’t. To each his own. I just know it works for me.”
Several other Canuvo patients tell us that fear of prescription painkillers led them to medical marijuana. Neal first came to the dispensary as a patient addicted to Oxycodone. He says he took the drug for 10 years after losing a leg in an ATV accident and found that smoking marijuana helped him cut back on Oxy. A year ago, he switched to a liquid alcohol-based marijuana tincture made at Canuvo.
“I take it in my morning coffee, about a half an eyedropper full, and between January and the end of April I became narcotic-free,” Neal says. “I used to live between 7 and 9 on a pain scale. I have yet to have a day over a 3 on the pain scale.”
Out in the waiting room is 38-year-old Heather Lemmer of Saco, Maine. She says she treats fibromyalgia pain with marijuana products, including a lotion, made by Canuvo employee Karen Knight.
“I told her I had knots in my back, and she was like, ‘Try this.’ And she gave a couple squirts and let me rub it on. Rubbing it in right then and there, it just like stopped,” Lemmer says.
A few seats away, 50-year-old Chris Couture, also from Saco, tells us she uses marijuana for Parkinson’s disease.
“It helps my muscles get loosened up when I get stiff,” she says.
‘The Menu’ Of Marijuana Options
On a table in the lobby, a daily menu — it’s actually called “the menu” — lists the varieties of marijuana available, their prices and their recommended uses. A type called Dynomite promises to make you feel “creative” and “uplifted” and to help with pain, stress, muscle spasms, anxiety and insomnia. The state of Maine says that to qualify for medical marijuana a patient has to have a “debilitating medical condition” or “intractable pain,” and patients are limited to buying 2.5 ounces every 15 days, although Peterson says most buy a small fraction of that.
After checking out that menu, Goulette orders the “Cheese Quake” strain of marijuana. Just like in Massachusetts, this medical cannabis isn’t covered by insurance, so Goulette pays full price: $94.50, including tax, for a quarter-ounce.
Waiting on Goulette is “patient advocate” Knight, who says she left her job as a registered nurse to work here. Knight, who is Peterson’s sister, makes Canuvo’s marijuana edibles and says many clients don’t know what to do with the loose marijuana they buy.
“They don’t even know how to smoke a lot of times. Never had any touch of marijuana, seen it, smoked it,” Knight explains. “So some people have gone back to their old friends from the ’60s to get lessons on how to smoke. We have a gentleman that makes [medical marijuana] Chicken à la King.”
So patients do find ways to have a little fun with their medicine. And we notice something that makes us wonder if some patients are having a different kind of fun: some Grateful Dead pictures and a small poster for the cult movie “Reefer Madness.” We remark to Peterson that that decor seems to promote the recreational use of marijuana, but he tells us he takes his medical mission seriously. He says he believes that most of his clients use their marijuana only for health reasons, not for a quick high. He also says he’s stopped doing business with two customers he suspected of selling some of their supply.
“If someone outrightly said, ‘You know, my neighbor really liked that,’ I would say, ‘You’re done.’ I can’t jeopardize the other patients who need this with foolishness,” he says.
Peterson is one of those patients, by the way. He says he’s approved to use medical marijuana to treat pain from years of physical work, such as construction. Asked why he wanted to open a dispensary, Peterson says he’s always been self-employed and likes to take on “hard projects and “step up to bullies.” We ask him if stepping up to bullies is what he considers this type of work to be, since marijuana is still illegal under federal law. His response: “I do. The federal government is keeping this fine medicine from the population.”
In Massachusetts, it’s currently legal for doctors to authorize the use of medical marijuana, and approved patients can grow it on their own. But dispensaries can’t open until the state Department of Public Health draws up specific guidelines, which are scheduled to be written by May 1.
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