Potential Portland pot dispensary gets OK after state decides church isn't a 'school'

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PORTLAND — Northeast Patients Group has received permission from the state to establish a medical marijuana dispensary at the corner of Congress and St. John streets.

The OK came after the state decided a nearby church education program is not a “school.”

The former bank building picked by Northeast came into question because state law prohibits dispensaries within 500 feet of a school.

At a City Council meeting July 19, The Rev. Stephen Reynolds said the Deliverance Center on Congress Street is a church, a school and a drug addiction recovery ministry.

He said the dispensary should be moved away from the center, which despite not having operated the school last year, expected a few students to attend this year.

According to the Deliverance Center website, the kindergarten-through-grade 12 program was created in 1979. Its recovery program is a residential program available to men who, according to the website, are “bound by the sins of: Alcohol, Drugs, Homosexuality, Perversion, etc.”

Catherine Cobb, the state director of Licensing and Regulatory Services, said this week that after speaking with the state Department of Education, it was determined the program does not meet the definition of a school.

“The department of education had never even heard of the Deliverance Center,” Cobb said. The school is not registered with the state, she said, and no one from the Deliverance Center has ever contacted the state about the school, or its proximity to the potential marijuana dispensary.

Cobb said that in order for the state to reconsider its position, the Deliverance Center would have to show that it is an actual school.

“We’ve given Northeast Patients Group the go ahead,” she said.

Northeast Patients Group was selected July 8 by the state to run four medical marijuana dispensaries, including one in Portland that will serve Cumberland County. The group is affiliated with the Berkeley Patients Group of California.

Rebecca DeKeuster, executive director of the Maine affiliate, said she expects the Portland dispensary to open in December. The group is eyeing the former KeyBank building at the corner of Congress and St. John streets, but has located alternative spots as well, including a place on Oxford Street.

“I think it’s premature to say we are going to go in there,” DeKeuster said of the KeyBank building. She said she plans to work closely with the city and neighbors to make sure the dispensary goes in the right place.

Maine voters in November 2009 approved allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. The city of Portland this month created zoning restricting the dispensaries to downtown business zones and some business zones off the peninsula.

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

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