Dawson Julia, right, and his wife, Kellie Julia. Credit: Courtesy of the Julia family

UNITY, Maine — A longtime Maine medical marijuana caregiver and activist who opened one of the state’s first medical marijuana storefronts is fighting for his life in a Florida hospital after being critically injured while on vacation.

Dawson Julia, 50, who owns East Coast CBDs in Unity, was riding a moped on a small island in the Bahamas on Tuesday, April 13, when he hit the road shoulder, catapulted off the vehicle and landed on concrete, according to a family member. Even though he was wearing a helmet and was going just 20 to 25 mph at the time of the crash, he was badly hurt.

“It was pretty dire,” his sister-in-law, Jennifer Nyman-Julia of Telluride, Colorado, said Thursday. “They didn’t think they had a chance, because his injuries were so severe.”

He was first taken to a small clinic on the island, where his wife, Kellie Julia, was told he would most likely die from his injuries. From there, Dawson Julia was taken by air to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, where he was placed in a medically induced coma and kept on a gurney in the hallway of the hospital for several days while his wife scrambled to find air transportation back to the United States and an accepting hospital, Nyman-Julia said.

They wanted to bring him to Maine, so he could be close to family, but doctors were concerned that the flight would be too long, and he went to a hospital in Miami, Florida, instead.

His injuries include brain damage, lung damage and fractures, according to information shared on a GoFundMe page to raise money for his medical expenses, which the family estimates have already surpassed $1 million.

Dawson Julia of Unity was critically injured in a moped accident in the Bahamas. Credit: Courtesy of the Julia family

“It’s tragic that he doesn’t happen to have insurance at this time,” Nyman-Julia said, adding that her brother-in-law is usually the one giving help, not asking for it. “He will help anyone that needs it. He’s known for that. That’s part of the reason he’s not a wealthy man. He devotes so much of his time and energy to helping others.”

Not long after he arrived at the Florida hospital, he suffered more problems. He went into cardiac arrest, and has experienced kidney failure and infection. But he has been getting good treatment, Nyman-Julia said, and is improving incrementally.

“It’s a very cautious optimism at this point,” she said. “We’re just praying and sending good energy.”

One thing he has going for him is that he’s a fighter, according to Catherine Lewis, the board president for Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, a trade association. Dawson Julia has helped the association with a number of its policy goals in the Maine Legislature, Lewis said.

“When we said we needed help and people needed to step up, Dawson was one of the first ones,” she said Thursday. “He single-handedly helped with a lot of bills, and he would be the person that when tough love had to happen, he’d give it.”

Dawson Julia was one of the first in the state to open up a medical marijuana storefront, Lewis said, and his pioneering spirit was evident from the beginning. Back when he opened East Coast CBDs, people told him he was crazy, that he couldn’t open up a store that sold medical marijuana. But he had an answer.

“He said, ‘There’s nothing that says I can’t,’” Lewis recalled. “He opened his store. Did really well with it, and it kind of set the tone for others.”

Dawson Julia served as a board member of the caregivers group before he started the Maine Cannabis Coalition, an advocacy group for caregivers and patients, Lewis said. She believes he has played an important role as state regulators and the marijuana caregiver community have navigated Maine’s changing approach to marijuana.

“He is able to bring people together,” she said. “Justice drives him. Dawson is about what’s right. He’s about justice. He wants fair treatment, and is a great fighter.”