THORNDIKE — Massachusetts-based Nova Farms is finalizing plans to expand into Thorndike in time for the 2021 growing season after securing approval Saturday.

Thorndike residents voted 50-34 at a special town meeting to nix a proposed six-month moratorium on new marijuana businesses to provide time to create a local marijuana ordinance.

The vote pushed forward the sale of Thorndike resident Donald Maxim’s 170-acre farm to Nova Farms, a commercial marijuana grower.

“It’s definitely a favorable decision,” Nova Farms CEO Derek Ross said Monday. “We had plans to start deploying capital and executing the project three weeks ago, and this was the curveball that slowed us down. Now that we’ve gotten past this, we can move on to purchasing the property and start developing the project.”

“I was pleased the way the vote went Saturday,” Maxim, 86, said Monday. “I guess the town felt there was no need for a referendum on it.”

Nova Farms, based in Attleboro, Massachusetts, will develop the project over the next two months, before it begins growing marijuana in the Waldo County community.

Ross, a Rockwood resident, said the farm will employ between 35 and 50 full- and part-time workers. The outdoor marijuana growing season starts in late May or early June, but Nova Farms hopes to get the final license by April to start planning the planting processes.

Although Thorndike voters rejected the moratorium, the town’s Planning Board might still create an ordinance. The new business cannot be stopped from moving in, unless the Planning Board or Board of Selectmen rejects parts of the permitting and application process.

“It’s just jumping through all the hoops with the town to make them feel comfortable about the project,” Ross said. “We’ll be hiring as soon as we can, as soon as the states clear us, as soon as the municipality approves us and we have our final licenses to start bringing plants into metric. We’ll be ramping up once that happens.”

Thorndike residents voted 34-25 in favor of adopting the state’s adult-use marijuana policy at the Aug. 20, 2020, annual Town Meeting. Municipalities have the option to create a local ordinance, but it is not necessary. Many have enacted such ordinances. The state Office of Marijuana Policy is the governing body for commercial marijuana growers, but individual municipalities have authority to make certain rules.

Donald Maxim, 86, in the garage at his home and farm, Maxim Farm, in Thorndike on Jan. 7. Town residents voted Saturday against a proposed moratorium on marijuana businesses during a special town meeting, paving the way for Maxim and his wife, Bertha, to sell their farm to Nova Farms, a commercial marijuana grower based in Massachusetts. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Donald Maxim and his wife, Bertha, 87, are moving to a senior care complex in Bangor. Maxim has lived at the farm for about 70 years, but it is not currently active — other than for haying — because health problems have forced the couple to give up daily farming.

Nova Farms signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Maxims at the end of September. The sale was supposed to close last week, but the agreement was extended due to the moratorium vote.

Nova Farms possesses a conditional Maine tier 4 outdoor cultivation license, which allows no more than 20,000 square feet of planting at the site.

The three-member Thorndike Board of Selectmen is required to sign off on the state application for Nova Farms to move to the Gordon Hill Road property. Nova Farms has agreed in principle to pay any licensing fees for a future ordinance and all permitting costs.

The marijuana grown at Nova Farms in Thorndike could be sold to a product manufacturer or retailer after it passes state-required testing. Ross said the company has not decided what route it will take with the marijuana it grows in Thorndike, other than company officials want to keep the product in Maine.

“I love this state,” Ross said. “It’s crazy that some of the most-talented marijuana entrepreneurs are from Maine, this tiny state in the Northeast. It’s going to be exciting to see how this recreational market works out and how these guys spread their wings.”

Nova Farms has a manufacturing license at its Massachusetts facility, where it makes a handful of products. Company officials hope to secure a similar license for the Thorndike location. Nova Farms also will add more than a million bees to the farm, which Ross said will not change significantly when the marijuana begins growing.

“We’re not fancy with how we grow marijuana outdoors, so there’s not going to be a lot of change to the property that’s in place now,” Ross said. “We’re super excited to get going here.”

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