AUBURN — A marijuana dispensary is moving in at the Auburn Plaza.
Officials from Remedy Compassion, one of eight medical marijuana dispensaries selected by the Department of Health and Human Services, announced Thursday that it had received permission from the city of Auburn to open for business at the Center Street mall.
The Auburn Planning Board on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a plan for Remedy Compassion to renovate existing space at the plaza.
"At this location," said Jennifer Smale of Vienna, patient services director for the group, "Remedy Compassion Center will be a place where qualified patients and caregivers will feel as safe and comfortable acquiring their medical cannabis as they would purchasing prescription drugs from a pharmacy."
Remedy Compassion had looked over nearly 20 sites before settling on the location in Auburn. The reasons for their choice were many.
"The Auburn Plaza is a good spot because it is a convenient location next to the Auburn Mall where many people shop already," Jennifer Smale said. "It is also on the bus line, has plenty of parking with easy access, and is a relatively discreet location."
The plaza is home to Big Lots, Bed, Bath & Beyond and T.J. Maxx, as well as Flagship Cinemas. The dispensary will go into Suite 1-C near the end of the plaza, next to Craftmania, Jennifer Smale said.
Other also see the plaza as an ideal spot.
"One would be hard-pressed," said John Thiele, manager of the DHHS Medical Marijuana Program, "to find a more convenient location for the people of Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties."
One plan called for the dispensary to open Dec. 13, but the date was subject to change.
Once they move in, the Smales will be subject to rigorous DHHS licensing requirements, such as unannounced inspections, limitations of plant numbers, strict inventory and patient-purchase records. Employees will be required to pass background checks and drugs tests.
Auburn did at one time have a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries, but it expired over the summer.
With that in mind, the Smales set their eyes on the Auburn Plaza after considering other locations in towns from Poland to Wilton. They met with Auburn police Chief Phil Crowell and other city leaders to discuss security plans and other matters before the request went to the Planning Board.
The Smales say their motivation to open the nonprofit is to provide fellow patients and caregivers with a "shame- and guilt-free alternative" to the black market.
“Patients just want to alleviate pain and suffering and improve their quality of life, and we’re providing a safe and legal way for them to do that,” Timothy Smale said.
“Also, many patients prefer not to smoke, so we’ll teach them about alternative delivery methods such as vaporizing, tinctures, medicated edibles and lotions," he said. "Our mission is to be a center of compassion, education and support, not only for patients and caregivers, but for Maine’s general public who seek answers to their medical cannabis questions.”
The couple also have a personal interest in the concept of medical marijuana — Timothy Smale has said he suffers from debilitating migraines and that his wife administers doses of the drug when he is too sick to do it himself.
According to the couple’s dispensary application, they intend to hire six administrators for the company, seven salespeople and six marijuana cultivators in their first year of business, adding several positions by year three. All of the marijuana will be cultivated at the dispensary, which will have state-of-the-art security, including motion detectors, glass-break detectors and video cameras.
Their product is expected to sell for $400 per ounce, which is $80 less than high-quality marijuana sold on the street. They will offer home delivery for customers who are not able to get to the dispensary during their regular Monday through Saturday hours.
The price per ounce is expected to drop to $324 per ounce by mid-2012.
According to the application form, the Smales anticipate marijuana sales of $388,714 in their first year of operation, growing to $1.7 million between July 2011 and June 2012, and $2.1 million the following year. Cultivation costs are expected to be $104,468 in the first year of operation, rising to $445,932 by the third year.
They estimate serving 375 patients in their start-up year, and up to 655 patients in year three.
In his application to the state, Timothy Smale listed his intention to sell marijuana in food forms such as brownies, caramels and cookies made with marijuana-infused butter and oil. The product will also be dispensed to be smoked as cigarettes, in pipes and as a smokeless vapor in a specially designed vaporizer, which eliminates carcinogens.
Patients may also be able to buy marijuana-infused topical lotions to use as anti-inflammatories or to treat psoriasis and eczema.
Jennifer Smale grew up in Yarmouth and left Maine to attend college. She said the couple moved to Maine in 2004 after learning voters legalized medical marijuana through referendum. At that time, Timothy Smale was CEO of Independent Glass Association, a nonprofit trade association based in Syracuse, N.Y., that helps small glass shops compete with chain stores. Jennifer Smale worked as the marketing director for IGA.
The couple later helped start up CannBe, based in Oakland, Calif., which develops and launches medical marijuana projects across the country.