GARDINER — The state’s largest medical marijuana provider christened a new dispensary in Gardiner Monday, located in a 1911 train station perched along the Kennebec River.
Wellness Connection of Maine, which operates a dispensary in Portland, hosted a formal ribbon cutting at its new facility in Gardiner, which takes the place of a facility in Hallowell. That dispensary will close and will relocate to Gardiner’s former train station.12-2-14-med-marijuana-1
Part of the reason for closing the Hallowell site was limited parking, according to Becky DeKeuster, co-founder of Wellness Connection of Maine. The Gardiner site, on the other hand, is located along Route 24 in the city’s downtown area, with parking and ample interior space.
“We’re growing, and the acceptance of cannabis as a medicine is growing. I think it makes a statement about Gardiner as it looks to the future that they would be willing to have this business take such an important historical building right near downtown,” DeKeuster said in an interview.
Wellness Connection of Maine chose the train station, built in 1911, because of its history, Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility and possibility for future growth, the company reported. Wellness Connection of Maine will also produce medical marijuana edibles on the lower floor in a commercial-grade kitchen. Seven employees from the Hallowell dispensary will be relocated to Gardiner, and Wellness Connection of Maine plans to hire several more, the company reported.12-2-14-med-marijuana-3
Wellness Connection of Maine has grown from five employees to more than 50 employees since 2011, when it started.
“We started with two employees and four plants, today we are looking at over 50 employees, we still do it with only four plants,” DeKeuster joked.
In Maine, a citizen’s initiative legalizing medical marijuana passed in 2009. Maine is one of 23 states (as well as Washington, D.C.) that have removed criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana to treat certain illnesses, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
On Nov. 4, Alaska voters approved a ballot measure to end marijuana prohibition, and voters in Oregon adopted a similar measure earlier in the evening of the mid-term elections, making it the third state in the nation to end marijuana prohibition, following Colorado and Washington, the MPP noted. On Nov. 6, 2013, Portland, Maine, became the first city on the East Coast to legalize marijuana, the MPP added (this November, South Portland followed suit).
Asked about the momentum behind legalization, DeKeuster said, “I think that looking at what’s happening out West, we’ll probably end up with some combined track where patients who are using it medicinally will still have access to it that way and (those) who choose it recreationally will find that it is therapeutically valuable to them.”
In the meantime, Maine’s regulated medical marijuana program was voted No. 1 in the country by Americans for Safe Access this year, Wellness Connection of Maine noted.
Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett and Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, both spoke at Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in Gardiner. Harnett conceded that the proposal for a dispensary in the city of less than 6,000 sparked some debate.
“I can’t lie, it was not without controversy that we dealt with this issue as it came to Gardiner and it came in front of our community,” Harnett said, “but the underlying feeling that I went through all the time and that drove me to support this to try and move it forward, was this is all about compassion. This is about making medical marijuana accessible to persons who are suffering debilitating diseases that simply do not respond to traditional forms of medicine.
Harnett cited history, community and compassion as themes key to Gardiner and its embrace of Wellness Connection.
DeKeuster, recalling the train station opening in 1911, told a crowd Monday, “Interestingly, at that time tinctures of cannabis were regularly included in a traveling physician’s satchel so our presence here is probably not the first time that there has been cannabis in this building.”
Patricia Rosi, CEO, praised the “beautiful historic building” while noting, “Our history is still emerging.”
DeKeuster said, “We pledge to be responsible stewards of this facility.”

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