Old Knitting Mill eyed for growing medical marijuana

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The rear portion of the old Bridgton Knitting Mill is slated to become the first site in the Lake Region where medical marijuana is grown and processed on a commercial scale.

Canuvo, one of eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine, runs its retail operation out of Biddeford, and wants to use around 31,000 square feet of the former Portland Road mill to process and cultivate pharmaceutical grade cannabis. Owner Glenn Peterson told the Bridgton Planning Board Tuesday his four-year-old nonprofit dispensary needs more growing space than is now available at his Poland farm.

He said “We’ve been looking for a new location, and need a compassionate and understanding landlord, and we found that in Dan Craffey,” who owns the mill, a one-story cement-block building located across the highway from Dunkin’ Donuts. Peterson has a five-year lease-purchase agreement with Craffey to rent the entire back two sections of the building, with an option in year three of expanding into one-half of the right side. He’d like to begin operations by early August in the space, which also once housed Radiodetection.

He said the rear of the former mill has many of the features needed for such an operation, including outside fencing and “tremendous” access control security and fire-rated walls on the inside that would completely separate the operation from the space now used by Craffey for boat storage. There would be no need for a sign to identify the operation, he added.

His dispensary license is restricted to York County, but there are no state regulations as to where a cultivation site can be located, Peterson said.

The board ruled his application incomplete due to an inaccurate map and lack of sketch elements such as entrances and exits. Peterson’s preliminary site plan application also does not indicate the ability of the Bridgton Water District to serve the needs of the processing operation.

Peterson said he hasn’t prepared all the design details yet because “We wanted to make sure we’re welcome in the town.” He said his daughter is the company’s general manager and is “so excited” she would like to move to Bridgton if the plans are approved. He also said that his interactions so far with town officials “have just been so delightful” in their willingness to listen and guide the application along.

“Over the years I’ve learned that cannabis is very misunderstood,” said Peterson. “I’ve spent a lot of time educating, and it’s needed for a plant that’s been demonized by the government for the last 80 years.”

New patients, who become eligible to use medical marijuana instead of traditional pharmaceuticals for their pain, diabetes or other conditions, often assume the delivery system will be by “smoking joints and putting it in pipes,” Peterson said. When they first walk into his Biddeford dispensary on Wellspring Road, he said the staff spends several hours explaining the greater medical effectiveness of more concentrated delivery systems they provide such as lab-tested tinctures, lotions, edibles and oils.

“The act of smoking, we hope will become passé,” Peterson said. “We carry more delivery systems than any other dispensary.” Canuvo also stands out for its emphasis on growing CDB plants, instead of the more lucrative THC plants, he said. Several doctors have approached him about producing CDB cannabis because they are finding it extremely effective in treating epilepsy and head injuries, he said.

As an aside, Peterson said he opposes current legalization efforts in Maine “as they’re written right now” for recreational marijuana because he believes the state needs to “approach it in a much slower manner.”

There’ll be no retail dispensary as part of Peterson’s plans in Bridgton, only cultivation and processing. Using grow rooms with charcoal filters and other environmental controls, the marijuana is grown to maturity and harvested by separating out the flowers and removing the stems and leaves. The smaller leaves are then hand-trimmed and processed into concentrates. The baking part of the operation is done in Biddeford, Peterson said, although he said he might add a kitchen to the Bridgton space at some point in the future.

“There should not be any smell on the street. We’re 400 or 500 feet from Hancock Lumber. If there’s any odor, there are scrubbers you can use,” Peterson said.

Board member Brian Thomas said in devising local rules to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, the town’s Medical Marijuana Committee did include standards for growing operations, mostly around security and disposal. Those amendments to the site plan review ordinance are up for a vote next week and would not apply to Peterson’s application.

Peterson said small batches of the processed marijuana would be driven to Biddeford daily and would likely require only one delivery truck. He has around 15 to 20 employees currently, and is looking to add another 15 to 20 workers with the increased production the Bridgton facility would provide. There would be no need for more than one shift, he added.

Near the end of the board’s many questions, Thomas said, “We don’t want you to walk away with the impression we don’t want you. This is a great industry to come into this town, and you’re adding jobs to this town.”

The board voted that a public hearing wasn’t necessary for the project, and tabled the application until their Tuesday, July 7 meeting.

 

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