The bloom is off the buds, that's for sure. While four medical marijuana dispensaries are up and running in Maine (in Auburn, Biddeford, Ellsworth, and Frenchville), four others — all licensed to the Northeast Patients Group, an entity that came into Maine trumpeting its experience and connections to the California-based Berkeley Patients Group — are mired in a lawsuit and financial controversy, without having opened a single dispensary. (And yes, Northeast has the license for the Portland-area dispensary.)
Earlier this month, Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), which runs a 13,000-member dispensary in California, sued former employee Rebecca DeKeuster — who moved to Maine to oversee BPG's expansion here — and Northeast Patients Group (NPG) for $632,195. In the complaint, the company also asks that the court forbid DeKeuster from working with NPG or any competitor.
The suit claims that DeKeuster, who had worked for BPG since 2004, violated the terms of her contract (which afforded her a $110,000 annual salary) by using BPG's reputation and money to obtain local permits and licensing, all while she allegedly worked covertly to strike up an arrangement with a competing organization.
Daniel Walker, Preti Flaherty attorney and counsel to NPG, provided a written statement that read, in part: "Suffice it to say that we and our clients have a much different view of the underlying facts and are prepared to present our case and counterclaims in court. . . . We had the sincerest of intentions to open the dispensaries in 2010, but the expected support and funding that we relied upon failed to come through. This is unfortunate, but we . . . do expect to have necessary funding and support to open the dispensaries in the very near term."
That funding, it appears, is now coming from the competitor referred to in BPG's lawsuit: the Rhode Island-based Mobley Pain Management and Wellness Center, owned by former NBA player Cuttino Mobley. (Mobley's application to run a dispensary in Rhode Island is currently on hold due to concerns about how federal anti-drug laws affect state medi-mari regulations.)
NPG's financial plan was finalized earlier this week, but its details remain unknown for now — NPG's board (minus state representative Mark Dion, who tendered his resignation in June) has approved the terms, according to Catherine Cobb, who directs the medical marijuana licensing program for the state Department of Health and Human Services, and state officials have the specifics. "However, the department is evaluating (NPG's) request for the information to be kept confidential," Cobb wrote in an email to the Phoenix.
The final agreement is likely similar to a February 23 letter of intent, in which Mobley promised $2 million and a $100,000 bridge loan to NPG. Repayments, which would start a year after the agreement is finalized, would include an 18-percent interest rate and the exclusive right to supply Northeast with pot drinks, edibles, tinctures, and topical solutions. It is unclear where those value-added products would be made.
While the state evaluates the new plan, the lawsuit proceeds, and Portland's pot patients will continue to wait.
For one observer, Jonathan Leavitt, who recently stepped down as chair of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine trade association, this fiasco is simply evidence that the dispensary model adopted in Maine and other states is unsustainable.
"Dispensaries are now operating in the world of big business and a corporate culture that thrives on greed," he says. "It's a far cry from the caregiver model that is both sustainable and forward-thinking. So it's no surprise that this kind of thing is taking place and it's likely to only get worse as growing marijuana goes from counter-culture to Wall Street."