PORTLAND, Maine — People who will live and work near a proposed medical marijuana dispensary off Longfellow Square in Portland say they welcome the new business to their neighborhood.

“I think it’s awesome,” Allison Stevens, who lives in an apartment building across the street from the proposed site, told the Bangor Daily News. “I think it’s a viable business. I think it’s a shame it’s going to be taxed, but people need [medical marijuana] and this will make it accessible.”

Northeast Patients Group has secured a lease to set up a dispensary for the legalized marijuana at 685 Congress St., in a 6,500-square-foot space in the rear side of the brick building that also houses Local 188 restaurant.

“We’re in the process of renovating it,” said Becky DeKeuster, chief executive officer of Northeast Patients Group. “We have some build-out and adjustments we want to do with the floor plan to make it functional for patients, but it’s a fantastic site with great neighbors. We were really, really fortunate to find that site.”

Northeast Patients Group was awarded four of Maine’s eight regional medical marijuana dispensary licenses made available by the state after the passage of 2009’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act. DeKeuster said the organization is seeing patients in the Thomaston area by appointment, plans to have a facility up and running in Hallowell in November, and is currently in talks to secure a lease in the Bangor area, in addition to the Portland dispensary.

DeKeuster said her group still must go through the municipal permitting process for her business at the Portland location, but because it’s in a zone where such a business is allowable, she “doesn’t anticipate any difficulty in permitting.”

Northeast Patients Group reportedly has obtained $1.6 million in financial backing from sources such as the California-based The Farmacy Institute for Wellness and former professional basketball player Cuttino Mobley.

“We have secured financing and we’re moving forward aggressively,” DeKeuster said.

Two employees of Local 188 setting up chairs outside the restaurant Friday afternoon said they did not want to be identified in the newspaper, but said they were unconcerned about the arrival of a medical marijuana dispensary behind the eatery.

“It doesn’t bother me,” added Travis Hall, who rents another apartment across Congress Street from the proposed location. “I wouldn’t think that it would [have an affect on the crime rate].”

In at least one area, medical marijuana has attracted thieves recently. The Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department has responded twice in the past two weeks to calls from residents — one in Richmond and one in Woolwich — who reported the theft of marijuana plants they were growing for medical purposes.

“While this new law is being sorted out, we’re experiencing some problems,” Sagadahoc County Chief Deputy Brett Strout said on Friday.

But Strout said the state-recognized dispensary facilities likely will be more secure than home greenhouses.

“It becomes an asset and a liability,” Strout said. “It’s just another product out there that people have to have some kind of security and vigilance about it when they’re not around [to personally protect it].”

DeKeuster said her organization is committed to being a safe and charitable neighbor in whatever communities it becomes established. She said the facility likely will provide yoga, acupuncture and other holistic activities for patients.

“I think once we’re open and we’re able to be the engaged and supportive community members that we are, that’ll go a long way to quell some of the concerns out there,” DeKeuster said. “Part of our mission is community involvement, and part of our plan is to support the community through charitable donations and giving. We want to do our best to become active and helpful members of each of the communities we go into.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.