Confusion over local rules leads to early opening of organic medical marijuana store in Winthrop

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

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

Earth Keeper Cannabis began welcoming customers in early April, after the city’s planning board approved its license in February, but before the city council gave final approval in May.

Instead of penalizing homeowners, officials view the situation as a teachable moment. The business was the first to open after changes to a city ordinance came into effect late last year requiring marijuana stores to obtain approval from both councils.

“They really thought they were approved when they got Planning Board approval,” said Winthrop code enforcement officer Mark Arsenault. “I consider it partly my fault that they didn’t know,” he said, “and I probably should have let them know somewhere down the road. It’s a learning curve for me, and I think we learned a lot.

Going forward, the city council will need to renew their license on an annual basis, much like a liquor license.

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

The husband and wife team has another Earth Keeper Cannabis site in Wilton, where cultivation also takes place. The company has been certified by the MOFGA Certified Clean Cannabis program for eight years.

Corey said they have about 4 million worms at the Wilton site to help cultivate the soil.

The 62,000 square foot cultivation site is located in the former Wilton Tannery, which John Black bought for $1 from the town of Wilton in 2015.

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

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

Arsenault, the code enforcement officer, said the Main Street store is the city’s third-largest marijuana business, adding that there may also be medical marijuana caregivers in Winthrop, but they operate under different rules.

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

“I’ve never really had anyone call me to say no to anything,” Arsenault said.

City Manager Jeff Kobrock said Winthrop took his time passing the ordinance to ensure it was done well and looked to other communities as role models.

“Winthrop was quite deliberate and methodical in crafting his local marijuana ordinance,” he said.

He said the methodical approach to ordering can be linked to positive reception.

“(Marijuana is) legalized statewide, so we need to do our homework and provide proper 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 good.

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


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