Earth Keeper Cannabis owner Corey Black with different strains of marijuana Monday at the business’s new Winthrop location. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — The premature opening of a new medical marijuana shop has reminded town officials of the importance of communicating rule changes.

Earth Keeper Cannabis began welcoming customers in early April, after the town’s Planning Board approved its license in February but before the Town Council gave final approval in May.

Instead of penalizing the owners, officials are considering the situation a learning moment. The business was the first to open after changes to a town ordinance went into effect late last year requiring marijuana shops to obtain approval from both boards.

“They really thought they were approved when they got approval from the Planning Board,” said Winthrop Code Enforcement Officer Mark Arsenault. “I consider it partially my fault that they weren’t aware,” he said, “and I probably should have somewhere down the road made them aware of it. It’s a learning curve for me, and I think we’ve learned a lot.”

Moving forward, the Town Council will need to renew its license on an annual basis, much like a liquor license.

At the shop at 357 Main St., owners Corey and John Black grow over 100 different strains in-house and offer a wide selection of edibles and CBD products.

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The husband-and-wife team have another Earth Keeper Cannabis location in Wilton, where cultivation takes place. The business has been certified through the MOFGA Certified Clean Cannabis Program for eight years.

To help with their organic growing operation, they also have a worm farm with about four million worms at the former Wilton Tannery. John Black purchased the 62,000-square-foot site from the town of Wilton for $1 in 2015

The Blacks have been in the marijuana industry since 2011. Corey Black said her husband John has a degree in horticulture and is also a master gardener, and that they started a landscaping business, Rocky Hill Landscaping, 25 years ago. Today, the duo continues to run the landscaping business in addition to Earth Keeper Cannabis.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association certification for organic marijuana on display Monday at the new Winthrop location of Earth Keeper Cannabis. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Arsenault, the code enforcer, said the shop on Main Street is the third marijuana business in town, adding that there may also be medical marijuana caregivers in Winthrop but that they operate under different rules.

The reception to marijuana businesses in Winthrop has been positive, he said.

“I haven’t really had anybody call me and say no to anything,” Arsenault said.

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Town Manager Jeff Kobrock said Winthrop took its time in passing the ordinance to make sure it was done right, and looked at other communities as models.

“Winthrop was fairly deliberate and methodical in developing its local marijuana ordinance,” he said.

He said the methodical approach to the ordinance may be related to the positive reception.

“(Marijuana is) legalized on a statewide basis, so we ought to do our homework and provide adequate regulation and controls,” Kobrock said. “I think, because of that, I haven’t heard any complaints at all.”

And so far, Corey Black says business is going well.

“Things are going pretty good,” she said. “It’s picking up slowly. We’ve been open (in Winthrop) for just a month.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the former Wilton Tannery site is now a worm farm. 

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