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Portland-based nonprofit sees opportunity in medical marijuana 'caregivers'

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Portland-based nonprofit sees opportunity in medical marijuana 'caregivers'

PORTLAND — The state's eight sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to begin operating by the end of this year, providing the drug to potentially thousands of Mainers who have notes for it from their doctors.

The dispensaries will provide one-stop shopping for people to fill their marijuana prescriptions, purchase paraphernalia to smoke it or even get acupuncture.

But at least one new nonprofit is banking on the desire for a more one-on-one approach.

Compassionate Caregivers of Maine was formed earlier this year with the goal of acting as a matchmaker between patients and "caregivers" – Mainers who grow marijuana for patients.

The state has allowed such a practice since passing its original medical marijuana law nearly a decade ago. When legislators were hammering out rules for dispensaries earlier this year, they also amended the rules for caregivers.

"We see caregivers acting as mini-dispensaries," said Marty Macisso, head of Compassionate Caregivers of Maine.

Macisso said that beginning in January, caregivers have to apply to the state and pay a license fee to grow marijuana for patients. Each caregiver can grow up to six plants for patients and serve up to five patients.

CCM believes the state should not have chosen organizations with out-of-state origins to open state dispensaries. Macisso said he does not think dispensaries should have any out-of-state ties and that directors of dispensaries should have to prove they've been Maine residents for a minimum of five years.

Northeast Patients Group was tapped by the state to open four dispensaries, including the Portland dispensary. The group is affiliated with Berkeley Patients Group of California.

Setting up a network for patients and caregivers allows Mainers to get in on the new medical marijuana business.

"It's like buying local," Macisso said. "We're helping to start ancillary businesses as well."

CCM will charge a membership fee to caregivers and in exchange those caregivers will be connected with patients, walked through the state application process and offered continuing education classes with horticulturalists and experienced hydroponics growers.

The benefit Macisso said he thinks will have the most impact, though, is an online social network CCM is establishing. It will allow caregivers to connect online to share information about growing techniques and experiences.

"It's a virtual collective," he said.

A network will also be set up for patients using CCM's services.

Patient services through CCM are free. In addition to matching people with growers, CCM also has a network of physicians to share with people hoping to obtain a doctor's certification.

"If someone contacts us from, say, Machias, we'll look in our network and find a doctor for them there," Macisso said. If the person obtains a certification from the doctor for medical marijuana, then CCM hooks them up with a grower.

The patient will meet with the caregiver one-on-one to discuss their arrangement, including prices. The caregiver is also expected to go over the different strains of marijuana available, as different medical conditions benefit from different strains.

"There are people in Maine with experience growing," Macisso said. "When the state decided to award 50 percent of dispensary operations to out-of-state groups they cut Mainers out."

CCM has a website with information for patients and caregivers, mainemedmarijuana.com. The site also lists conditions eligible for medical marijuana prescriptions.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net