Staff rearrange the displays at the Wellness Connection of Maine medical marijuana dispensary in Gardiner on Friday. Starting Saturday, the store will switch to selling adult recreational marijuana products. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal Buy this photo

GARDINER – On Saturday, Wellness Connection of Maine, a medical marijuana dispensary with a strong advocacy for medical marijuana, relocated to an adult marijuana retail store in its Gardiner location.

“We like to think about it when we open up to anyone 21 years or older,” said Charlie Langston, managing partner of Wellness Connection of Maine, on Friday. “Functionally, we try to ensure that there really is no difference for our existing customers.”

This is the second of the company’s four branches to make changes and capitalize on Maine’s fledgling adult marijuana market. Just one month after launch, the South Portland store opened as an adult store under the name HighNorth by Wellness Connection.

Under state law, marijuana outlets can offer either medicinal cannabis or adult cannabis products, but not both. Langston said the solution for Wellness Connection is to increase the availability of cannabis products by switching, but give a discount to medical marijuana card holders.

“Our patients have been with us for so many years so we adjust prices for them so they don’t really see a difference,” Langston said.

While regulations for medicinal cannabis products and adult cannabis products differ widely, Langston says the company has taken a conservative approach to its offerings. It has avoided the permitted higher doses of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, in its medicinal marijuana foods. The products offered do not differ significantly.

But the prices will. Because the two cannabis markets are treated differently, the products sold are valued differently. In the adult market, an excise tax is levied on the transfer of flowers from cultivation to the next step, regardless of whether they are for sale or manufacture. Sales tax on adult products is 10%, not the 5.5% sales tax levied on other products in the state.

To keep prices down for medical customers, Langston says the difference will come from the margin on adult products that they hope the medical side can subsidize.

“This market is so new,” he said. “It’s very difficult to see where the pricing will end up. We are in Maine’s busy tourist season right now, so it will be interesting to see how it all flows this summer. “

Shop manager Mandy Veniot is loading glassware into a new display case at the Wellness Connection of Maine medical marijuana dispensary on Friday. Starting Saturday, the store will switch to selling adult recreational marijuana products. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal Buy this photo

With travel and quarantine restrictions on COVID-19 eased this year, the flow of tourists and their money is expected to boost the state’s economy. Langston found that Maine can, under normal circumstances, attract up to 40 million visitors annually.

Among those attendees were people who hoped to buy Wellness Connection medical marijuana products but couldn’t because they were not citizens. Now, he said, Wellness Connection locations are receiving calls from people planning visits to take advantage of the adult market.

Wellness Connection of Maine has been part of the Gardiner business landscape since it opened in December 2014 at Gardiner’s historic train station following the Hallowell move.

Just two years later, voters were marginally in favor of legalizing marijuana. While the state of Maine worked to create the regulatory structure under which the adult market would operate, cities and towns have grappled with whether to allow cultivation, manufacture, or sale in their communities.

Gardiner was one of the communities that had their own land use regulations and permit systems in place before the planned launch.

Last summer, after a number of establishments in Gardiner applied for marijuana business licenses, some residents expressed alarm at the number of retail stores in the city’s historic downtown, despite being no closer than 200 feet to another.

This resulted in a moratorium on new applications for both medical and adult facilities being considered, while the Regulation Review Committee and Planning Authority considered whether to further limit the number of approved cannabis retail stores .

On May 11th, the Gardiner Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the more restrictive regulations being drafted for consideration by the Ordinance Review Committee. Proposed changes include increasing the distance between cannabis establishments to 500 feet and limiting the location of retail stores.

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