The state’s biggest medical marijuana company, Wellness Connection of Maine, will open its first recreational store Monday.

Changing its South Portland clientele from card-carrying medical patients to anyone over the age of 21 marks the beginning of Wellness’s transition from Maine’s decades-old medical marijuana market to its weeks-old recreational one. Wellness Connection plans to slowly convert its three other medical dispensaries in Portland, Gardiner and Brewer to adult-use stores, too.

And it also plans to shed its name. It will begin rebranding as HighNorth, trading in a name that conjures up the image of a sick patient for one that calls to mind the classic, earthy and beautiful nature of Maine’s signature brand. The new website features a constellation of connected stars that create the outline of a moose over an image of Acadia National Park’s Jordan Pond.

“From the first rays of sunlight to its pristine waters, the state of Maine is known for its fresh, quality cannabis,” HighNorth says.

Medical patients still will be able to shop at the Wellness Connection of Maine’s South Portland store, which is tucked into a 1980s-built strip mall at 29 Western Ave. about a mile east of The Maine Mall, but things will be different. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

When the South Portland store converts to adult use Monday, it will become the city’s third recreational cannabis seller. The other two are Theory Wellness at 198 Maine Mall Road, Suite 100, and SeaWeed Co. at 185 Running Hill Road. A fourth, Maine Cannabis Exchange, has been fully licensed in the Knightville neighborhood but has yet to open its doors.

Wellness Connection confirmed the adult-use conversion in South Portland through a spokeswoman on Friday, but didn’t address its plan to leave Maine’s medical market after almost a decade of advocating for patients’ rights. It revealed that long-term plan on the Frequently Asked Questions page of its corporate website.

“This process will be slow,” it wrote. “We will communicate with our members when these changes will come and what to expect.”

Medical patients still will be able to shop at the South Portland store, which is tucked into a 1980s-built strip mall at 29 Western Ave. about a mile east of The Maine Mall, but things will be different. Unlike other states, which grant medical patients their own checkout lines, guaranteed supply and tax advantages, Maine law requires retailers to commit to medical or recreational.

That means medical patients that shop at the South Portland location will probably have to pay more once the shop goes adult-use. Recreational cannabis is taxed at a higher rate than medical, and costs more to bring to market because state law requires it to undergo more rigorous health and potency testing.

Wellness Connection of Maine, the state’s largest medical marijuana company, is converting to recreational marijuana and will open its first retail store on Monday in South Portland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“The new regulations significantly increase costs,” Wellness Connection posted on its website. “They require huge investments in facilities, security upgrades, tracking systems, as well as excise taxes and testing fees. These increased costs, combined with a limited supply and pent-up consumer demand, will make products in recreational stores more expensive.”

Through Sunday, a medical patient can buy an eighth of an ounce of smokeable medical cannabis flower – enough to roll seven fat joints or about 14 cigarette-style ones – at the South Portland location for $32 to $38, depending on the strain, volume and grow house that produced it. In the past, during its Thursday sales, it would sell the same amount for just $28.

Wellness Connection isn’t saying how it will price its recreational marijuana, but Maine’s eight other licensed adult-use stores sell the same amount of cannabis for $46 to $65. Two recreational stores only sell smokeable flower by the gram, or rolled into joints, at even higher prices. An eighth of black-market marijuana can be found for as little as $25 across most of Maine.

Wellness Connection warned all its customers, adult-use and medical, that its marijuana supply may be lacking, at least for a bit.

“Due to the complexity of the laws, we expect limited inventory throughout the state,” Wellness Connection said on its website. “This will not only affect recreational cannabis stores, but also medical dispensaries. This is due to regulations, testing, and supply chain issues. We are doing everything in our power to make sure our patients have quality medicine.”

Wellness Connection is owned by High Street Capital Partners of New York, a subsidiary of Acreage Holdings, a marijuana giant with operations in 19 states. As Northeast Patients Group, Acreage has final state licenses for its South Portland store and a grow and manufacturing plant in Auburn. It has applied to convert its other stores and open a second manufacturing site in Gardiner.

The company has often found itself at odds with Maine’s community of 2,200 independent medical marijuana providers, known as caregivers. Maine state law had intended for the eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries – four of which are operated by Wellness – to supply the 50,000 or so Mainers certified to buy medical marijuana, but caregivers now account for three-quarters of the $112 million market.

Members of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine have long accused Wellness Connection of putting profits ahead of patients.

“Wow, just like the caregivers have said all along,” said caregiver Catherine Lewis, the head of MMCM and owner of two stores in Augusta and Hallowell. “It appears they are not concerned about patient access. But in all reality, it’s always been the local Maine caregiver taking care of Maine patients.”

Most of Maine’s caregivers are opting to continue their service to medical patients, at least for now, Lewis said. She said the group will keep lobbying the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy to preserve the state’s separate adult-use and medical programs and avoid the temptation to choke the state’s thriving medical program with too much regulation.

“It’s even more important now to keep the focus on what is best for patients,” Lewis said.


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