AUBURN — The newest business at the Auburn Plaza is freshly painted, purple and yellow. There are flowers on a table and a pair of couches in front of one long wall. There are a few items for sale in a display case and a receptionist talking quietly on the telephone.
Just another another shop preparing to open its doors. You probably wouldn’t guess that the eyes of the nation are watching carefully.
The Remedy Compassion Center, a medical marijuana dispensary, will open for business on Wednesday.
Don’t expect balloons and neon lights. The only people to notice much at all will be those who have an appointment.
“We’re going to be low key,” said Jenna Smale, who will run the business with her husband, Timothy. “We don’t need to make a big splash.”
The Smales don’t expect much buzz around the opening. Why should they? Police and city leaders have given them the nod of approval. The public has been largely supportive. Most either support the concept of medical marijuana or they have nothing to say about it at all.
But there will be plenty of people watching, regardless. The idea of marijuana being sold legally is relatively new. Medical officials and prosecutors will be very interested in how things go.
With an amendment to Maine’s Medical Marijuana Act pending before the Legislature, Maine’s U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II last week issued a statement in response to an inquiry from the Department of Health and Human Services Committee. In the statement, Delahanty advises that, while the Department of Justice does not focus its resources on sick people who use medical marijuana, the federal government does reserve the right to charge those found to be in violation of federal law.
That matter should not affect the Smales or their patients. Last year, Remedy Compassion was given the green light by the DHHS to provide marijuana to those who require it medically. The Auburn Planning Board, in response, voted unanimously to allow the Smales to renovate the former furniture store at Auburn Plaza.
“So far,” Timothy Smale said, “so good.”
With the bulk of those administrative matters behind them, and their space at the plaza ready to go, the Smales said they can now turn their attention to the most important work of all: Easing the suffering of those afflicted with cancer, multiple sclerosis and a variety of other ailments.
“When they walk through the door,” Timothy said, “they’ll see us in our white coats, like they would see a doctor or pharmacist. We’re professionals. We care about our patients.”
Patients have been making appointments for months; more patients than the Smales expected, frankly. Some of them already have a working knowledge of how medical marijuana works. Others have no clue.
“They’ve had no experience whatsoever,” Timothy said. “We’re able to educate them and find ways to safely take the medicine.”
For one thing, according to Jenna Smales, some stereotypes and Hollywood ideas need to go out the door. Smoking marijuana? It’s what you see in late-night movies but not necessarily the best way to ingest it.
“Smoking is really passe,” Jenna said. “It’s not the best thing for your body.”
The Smales and their staff — according to their dispensary application, they will hire six administrators, seven salespeople and six cultivators — will begin educating. They will show patients different ways of taking the drug, from vaporizing to tinctures to lotions and edibles.
There is also the matter of potency, the Smales said. The marijuana they dispense will be much stronger than pot typically found in the street. Because of that, they will show their patients how to make small quantities of marijuana go a long way. You can vaporize a single dose of marijuana twice, for example. And then? Turn what's left into butter.
The Smales have estimated they will serve around 400 patients in their start-up year and up to 655 in year three. But with more doctors willing to prescribe it every day, and with more sufferers learning how marijuana can help, it would surprise few if those numbers rose even higher.
“It’s a very safe alternative,” Jenna said, “for patients who have come to a dead end.”
According to the couple’s dispensary application, 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. The price per ounce is expected to drop to $324 per ounce by mid-2012.
The company will offer home delivery for customers who are not able to get to the dispensary during their regular Monday through Saturday hours.
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.
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.