WATERVILLE — For Tally Leavitt, being able to walk into an adult-use marijuana store to legally buy products is the realization of a longtime dream.

Leavitt, 63, was one of the first customers Wednesday at Sweet Dirt, the first adult-use store in Kennebec County which opened at 475 Kennedy Memorial Drive.

“I was one of the group of people that, years ago, did the first smoke-in outside the courthouse in Skowhegan, protesting for the legalization of marijuana,” Leavitt, of Waterville, said. “I just kind of chuckle at it now, because I always tell my kids I remember when we tried to get that legalized — and here it is, legalized. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a marijuana facility.”

Like many others who bought cannabis Wednesday, Leavitt said she smokes it for medicinal purposes and for relaxation.

“Especially in times like this,” she said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sweet Dirt opened in the former and now renovated 3,100-square-foot Pine Cone Gift Shop next to the on-ramp of Interstate 95 and just across the street from Exit 127. It is among the first cannabis companies in the state to open for recreational purposes and features contemporary fabrication and state-of-the-art systems and security.

A line of about a dozen people formed outside the doors before the 10 a.m. opening Wednesday and each was checked for identification before entering to ensure each person was 21 or older. No other certification, such as a medical card, was required.

Inside, the space was gleaming with glass, light and muted colors. Sweet Dirt’s chief executive officer, Jim Henry, and his wife, Rebecca Henry, vice president of marketing, greeted customers warmly, as did multiple employees.

“Many of them are up from Eliot where our home campus is,” Rebecca Henry said.

The Waterville store is the first of Sweet Dirt’s four adult-use cannabis stores in central and southern Maine. The company, which offers three categories of product — flowers, concentrates, edibles, as well as ancillary products — has a 33,000-square-foot greenhouse for growing organic cannabis and a medical cannabis store in Eliot. Sweet Dirt also plans to open an adult-use store in Portland in 2021.

The company was given the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Certified Clean Cannabis designation, which is achieved by fewer than 1% of all licensed cannabis growers in Maine.

Jim Henry said the company expects to employ 150 to 180 people by the end of 2021. Currently, it has about 40.

In the Waterville store Wednesday, customers perused the “bars” or glass cases containing product where they could see and smell different strains with names such as “Wedding Pie,” “Sun Cake,” “Purple Punch” and “Ice Cream Cake.”

“Ice Cream Cake is kind of sweet and creamy,” said Sam Wiese, one of the managers at the Eliot store. “Often the names are based on breeders’ whim and whimsy.”

Customers placed orders via iPads at the counter and their orders were filled, first by employees in the “picking room” at the back of the store and then by those at the “cash wrap,” or check out counter, who placed the product in child-proof bags.

In the parking lot outside, customer Ryan Patrick, 24, of Waterville, said he spent $55 plus tax on cannabis to smoke and palm leaves to smoke it in.

“It’s a cone and you just push the marijuana in there,” Patrick said. “This will probably last me a month or so. I don’t use a lot, like some people.”

He said he and his girlfriend have traveled around to other marijuana stores and Sweet Dirt’s is by far the best in terms of looks, service and appeal.

“I can’t say much about product yet, but definitely it is worth the time and money,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Henrys said the project has been a labor of love, the city has been very welcoming and police, fire officials, code enforcement and city leaders have been great to work with.

The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting Monday at the store.

Tayla Clark, left, a budtender at Sweet Dirt cannabis, helps a customer with a purchase Wednesday, the first day of adult use business at Sweet Dirt on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“The city staff has been tremendous,” Jim Henry said.

Maine approved the sale of adult-use marijuana about a month ago. Jim Henry said getting to that point was a challenge and took four years to accomplish, with bumps along the way.

“We’re very excited for the industry, but for our company, we’re really excited, because this is just the beginning for us,” he said.

The City Council in July approved a marijuana retail license for Sweet Dirt.

Rebecca Henry said in July that the demand for medical cannabis is great and that demand increased even more with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. People use medical cannabis for a variety of reasons, including anxiety, sleep issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and glaucoma, according to Rebecca Henry.

Sweet Dirt’s Waterville hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

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