Cliff Miller, CEO of the Atlantic Cannabis Collective, talks about his operation from inside one of his grow rooms in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — A Maine native who last year said he was building the state’s “first and only cannabis business park” off Minot Avenue harvested his first crop Thursday.

Cliff Miller has revised his retail plans for Minot Avenue, hoping to break ground there later this year, and isn’t concerned that seemingly every few days brings word of yet another marijuana retailer, grower or both opening somewhere in Maine.

Marijuana buds growing at Mystique Way in Auburn. The greenhouse is a partnership between Cliff Miller and Garrett Durham. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

He anticipates enough demand in the adult use arena this spring for everyone. More than enough, even.

“We don’t have any deep, deep historical data, but you look at Michigan when they went live last month, they sold out within three days, the entire state,” said Miller, 35, CEO of the Atlantic Cannabis Collective. “They did $3.2 million in sales with six dispensaries open within two weeks. Canada, three days, gone, when their whole country opened up. Massachusetts, empty within days. There’s just not enough supply at the beginning of this market to keep stores open.”

He hopes for 25 harvests annually between his three Mystique Way greenhouses, eventually growing up to 10,000 pounds of marijuana a year that’s already in demand.

“We have people anxiously waiting to put down six-figure deposits to make sure they can get cannabis,” he said.

‘WE SHOW UP EARLY AND STAY EXTRA LATE’

Miller, a Lisbon native with a real estate background, in 2018 started working with a trio of Portland-based businessmen who bought 32 acres of an unused industrial park and built the first greenhouse on Mystique Way in 2019.

Miller consulted on Mystique Way LLC’s 11,000-square-foot project and built three more greenhouses with friends and family: One 4,000 square feet with its first medical marijuana harvest Thursday, one 11,000 square feet that is anticipated to receive its certificate of occupancy next week and another 4,000 square feet that recently broke ground, due to be complete in April.

He estimated the short dirt road has seen $6 million to $7 million in investment in the past year.

Eric Cousens, Auburn’s deputy director of economic & community development, said the building process has gone smoothly, noting the city is due to “see substantial new taxable value with limited, if any, service costs.”

Cliff Miller, left, and his brother-in-law, Garrett Durham, are business partners in one of the four greenhouses on Mystique Way in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

On a recent weekday inside Miller’s greenhouse nearly ready for the first harvest, his brother-in-law and business partner, Garrett Durham, tended dozens of plants, the bottoms stuck in neat black bags of shredded coco medium, the tops of the largest poking out through trellis netting.

“(It’s) canopy management — as much as people try to adapt to robots and that sort of structure, you always need humans no matter how truly automated you get,” said Durham, 26, from Brunswick. He and his wife are registered caregivers. “We want these plants to breathe and have proper airflow, and then we want proper light penetration as well.”

He’s constantly pruning and steering branches through the net, minding humidity, light levels and temperatures, as well as cleaning, nonstop.

“We show up really early and stay up extra late and work as hard as we can,” Durham said.

Once all three of his greenhouses are growing, Miller anticipates employing 10 to 15 people there and another five to 10 at a future retail space at 1315 Minot Ave. He plans to pair a storefront — for medical marijuana or adult use, whichever receives licensing approval — with a coffee shop and 120 to 150 self-storage units, breaking ground on the first stages of that project this year.

Within the former industrial park, Mystique Way LLC also received city approval in November to build a 32- by 32-foot medical marijuana retail shop on Mystique Way, near its greenhouse.

“We have a pending license application for the retail store, but they appear to be on their way to meeting the standards and obtaining a license,” Cousens said.

A spokesman for that project couldn’t be reached for more details.

‘ASK YOUR MOM . . .’

The next weeks and months are up in the air for the industry in Maine. Miller, like other growers, is waiting for conditional approval of an adult use cultivation license from the state.

With that in hand, he’ll need Auburn to confirm his greenhouses meet its adult use standards and head back to the state for final approval before switching his grows from medical marijuana to adult use.

“Ask your mom, ask your dad, OK you can,” Miller said.

He’s also awaiting details like the availability of state-approved testing labs — each adult use harvest will

Garrett Durham mops the floor of the flowering grow room. Garret says that he cleans the space daily to prevent disease and pests. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

need to be tested — and how, and when, adult use retail will roll out, years after Maine voters approved it in 2016.

David Heidrich, spokesman at the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, said Thursday that the current target is spring 2020.

“We deemed the first batch of applications complete — meaning all the materials required for consideration had been submitted — at the end of January, and we expect that we will begin issuing the first conditional licenses in the coming weeks,” he said.

Movement through the supply chain will dictate, to a degree, how the market launches, Heidrich said.

There needs to be testing labs open for business. There needs to be licensed adult use cultivators obtaining and growing plants. And finally that harvest needs to head directly to a storefront or to a manufacturing facility for processing.

How big the industry could get, with so many hoping to join the recreational market, is the multimillion dollar unknown.

In May 2019, the Maine Legislature’s Revenue Forecasting Committee projected sales and excise tax revenue could reach $4.4 million the first year of adult recreational sales but industry estimates have been much higher since.

Heidrich said the committee is poised to revise that estimate in its March 1 forecast.

Miller said he’s planting medical marijuana strategically in anticipation of being able to shift to recreational growing quickly once approvals start.

“Some of these people who applied for their (state) licenses have all of these things in place with just a blueprint and a place to put it. We’ve got it built,” he said. “If we were to get our license within that first week or two that they’re issuing them, I know of nobody else with that much cultivation (ready for adult use grows) in the entire state, and I’ve looked.”

Meanwhile, Miller is also consulting on a few projects outside of Maine.

“We’ve had people from across the world come tour our facilities and a lot of them have privately reached back out and said, ‘Hey, would you be willing to help us with that?'” he said. “Between the Mystique guys, our big one, our little one, now this last little one, we’ve got this to a science now. I do think that’s why a lot of people are reaching out.”


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