ELIOT, Maine — Though it is based in this southern York County town, East Coast Cannabis’ origins were planted in Nicaragua.
That’s where best friends Dana Brearley and James Folan first dreamt of joining the cannabis industry on a surf trip several years ago.
Five years after beginning medicinal operations, East Coast Cannabis is set to join Maine’s growing list of adult-use recreational marijuana stores for people aged 21 and older. It’s one of the first in York County, according to Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy.
“It has been a long, long, very stressful journey. … It doesn’t seem real yet, and until that first dollar crosses that register, it won’t feel real,” Brearley said.
Pending a health inspection necessary to gain state approval, East Coast Cannabis has been given the thumbs up from the town of Eliot to proceed with retail operations. If the business passes inspection, which could come this week, it could open as early as 24 hours later.
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Folan, 33, said he was first introduced to Brearley, 32, nearly a decade ago when they played music together at the old Blue Mermaid restaurant in Portsmouth. With Brearley on vocals and lead guitar and Folan on the drums, the two clicked and struck up a friendship.
On that trip to Nicaragua to visit a mutual friend, Brearley and Folan were talking about how they hoped to move out of their corporate careers. That’s when their friend mentioned Maine’s weed market appeared to be “coming alive,” Brearley recalled.
“We were always connoisseurs who loved cannabis,” said Brearley, who had a sales background, describing himself and Folan, a former engineer.
Getting a start in medicinal marijuana
In 2015, the pair bought a property in Eliot, where they began small-scale, homegrown marijuana operations and joined the medicinal marijuana market the following year.
Growing medicinal marijuana allowed Folan to keep his efforts focused on individual patients. Serving five or six at a time, Folan recalled the real-world impact marijuana had on some of his clients’ health, particularly one man who suffered from paralysis from the waist down, muscle soreness and a speech impediment.
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“I have a voicemail from him that still brings me to tears because it helped him so much,” he said, noting how the man spoke without struggle because of the marijuana Folan grew. “That completely hooked me.”
Brearley said stories like that motivated his and Folan’s moving to Maine and beginning their cannabis career together. “It was all so exciting to have an opportunity to give people access to this industry like they haven’t had before.”
Legalized recreational marijuana in Maine
After Brearley and Folan started East Coast Cannabis in 2016, Maine voters approved the legalization of recreational use, retail sale and taxation of marijuana in the November election that year.
Last September, Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy began distributing active retail licenses to marijuana businesses. Recreational sales went into effect on Oct. 9, but they have to be approved in individual communities.
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Last month alone, thanks to more than 57,000 transactions across Maine’s active adult-use licensees, recreational marijuana sales totaled more than $4.3 million across the state.
Prior to seeking an active license from the state in recreational retail operations, as well as approval from the town of Eliot to open for adult-use, East Coast Cannabis held active licenses in manufacturing and for Tier 3 cultivation, which allows for cultivation of up to 7,000 square feet of plant canopy.
David Heidrich, director of engagement and community outreach for the Office of Marijuana Policy, said there is only one other York County adult-use applicant “in the pipeline” to begin retail operations: Herbal Pathways in Berwick. Herbal Pathways also received local approval from the town of Berwick to seek retail sales.
The nearest recreational marijuana businesses to either proposed retail location are located in Cumberland County in Portland and South Portland, he added. Between the two cities, there are a combined 11 adult-use marijuana stores with active licenses.
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Folan said he wouldn’t have wanted to scour the Portland or surrounding area for a location to set up East Coast Cannabis.
“It feels incredible. I love this area and I love this idea of having ownership in a company that can be here,” he said of Eliot. “There’s so much to offer over here.”
Since its founding, East Coast Cannabis has taken on a third business partner, Ryan Ward, 34, and hired almost 25 employees.
All three “wear many hats,” Folan said, but Ward is designated as the trio’s chief financial officer, Brearley as chief executive officer and Folan as chief operations officer.
“It’s an unreal team,” he said.
Where in Eliot is the shop located?
Located at 290 Harold Dow Highway, East Coast Cannabis also occupies the space at 291 Harold Dow Highway, where they currently manufacture products. The business will continue to hold medical licenses, and an expansion of their retail space at 290 Harold Dow Highway location is being planned, which will include a new retail store and accommodate cultivation expansion, as well as more space for edibles manufacturing.
The 291 Harold Dow Highway cultivation facility, extraction lab and commercial kitchen is currently 5,000 square feet, and Brearley said he hopes the new expansion next door will tack on another 20,000 square feet: 15,000 square feet for cultivation and the remainder for retail.
Brearley said he’s “over the moon” waiting to receive approval from the state to open for recreational sales, a years-long experience he called “one hell of a learning process.”
“I absolutely cannot wait to get this going,” he said.