ELIOT, Maine — Spending five years as a budding medicinal marijuana business, Eliot-based East Coast Cannabis has received the nod from the state of Maine to begin recreational sales.
Co-founders Dana Brearley and James Folan III and East Coast Cannabis’ third partner, Ryan Ward, are aiming for a grand opening of their retail shop Thursday, June 17.
An official with Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy stated last week East Coast Cannabis, if approved, was poised to be one of the first adult-use shops in York County to open and the nearest retail pot shop south of Portland. Retroactive to last October, when Maine officially allowed for residents aged 21 and older to purchase marijuana from recreational establishments, now eligible Mainers and guests can travel to Eliot for their adult-use weed needs.
Brearley and Folan, friends and bandmates working corporate jobs turned “cannasseurs,” first concocted the idea of running their own marijuana company on a surf trip to Nicaragua several years ago to visit a friend. It was their friend who first brought up Maine’s blossoming marijuana market, sparking the duo’s interest and eventually inspiring them to buy property in Eliot and get growing.
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After starting out in a small, five-feet by five-feet space in a garage, Folan said, East Coast Cannabis has grown into a 5,000-square-foot cultivation facility, extraction lab and commercial kitchen on Harold L. Dow Highway (Route 236), as well as their adjacent retail space stocked with products, paraphernalia and East Coast Cannabis merchandise.
Brearley said people have equated East Coast Cannabis’ style to that of The North Face clothing company and added that they’re trying to appeal to summertime visitors of the mountains and the ocean, as well as those searching for swimming spots, hikers, boaters and fishers.
“Really what we’re catering toward is the tourists, people that are coming to the border. I mean that’s how Maine thrives is on the tourism market, and we really geared this store to be an outdoor feel. An adventure, outdoor brand is the persona we’re going for,” he said.
Retail: ‘It’s just like walking into a boutique’
East Coast Cannabis’ retail shop sells weed-centric books with titles such as “Bong Appetit,” a cookbook, and a yoga-inspired book called “Wake, Bake and Meditate.”
In the center of the shop is a glass bong with brass rivets with a black walnut base, according to retail manager Rebecca Lever. Pre-rolled joints, gummies, caramel, chocolate and peanut butter edibles, as well as numerous marijuana accessories are showcased throughout the shop, including paraphernalia molded from the shape of a real-life lobster claw.
Sweatshirts, T-shirts, flat-brim hats, beanies and backpacks with the East Coast Cannabis logo are stationed toward the back of the shop.
Lever said, “It’s just like walking into a boutique.”
An overall 20,000-square-foot expansion of East Coast Cannabis is in the works, with 15,000 square feet designed for cultivation and the remainder for retail.
Brearley said the business’ retail space was a former school classroom in Brunswick that he bought and brought to Eliot.
“We had visions about how this would come out. It came out so much better than I thought it would,” he said.
Herbal Pathways in Berwick, according to David Heidrich, director of engagement and community outreach for the Office of Marijuana Policy, is the only other York County marijuana establishment “in the pipeline” for an active recreational license.
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Joining Maine’s growing list of recreational marijuana locations since the distribution of active adult-use licenses began last fall is “as intimidating as it is exciting,” Lever said.
“It’s a huge opportunity to bring something to life and really connect Maine with cannabis in a normalized way,” she said. “So this space is really intended for people to feel comfortable and to support their active and adventurous lifestyles.”
Last month alone, marijuana retail sales totaled more than $5.3 million across the state, according to the Office of Marijuana Policy. Since retail sales went into effect last October, recreational marijuana sales have climbed to over $22.7 million throughout Maine.
Cultivation: ‘We put a ton of effort into building this’
Stepping into East Coast Cannabis’ cultivation facility, a mashup of music can be heard blaring throughout the building, with artists such as Kesha, Christina Aguilera, Aretha Franklin and Gloria Estefan all taking turns belting out tunes on the playlist.
“We have fun. You’ve got to keep it interesting,” Folan said.
Upwards of 25 employees make up the entire East Coast Cannabis team, with a number of them on the cultivation side.
The facility includes a manufacturing extraction lab, a fertigation room, a vegetation room, flower room, a cure room and multiple rooms for packaging products.
East Coast Cannabis’ facility, much like its medicinal operations, was designed by Folan and Brearley, Folan said.
“We put a ton of effort into building this,” Folan said.
The business’ marijuana process starts with a cutting from a “mother plant” that is placed into a hydroponic system in a genetic cloning process, Brearley said. Within time, the plant is then brought into the vegetation room to grow to a desired length under light-emitting ceramic lights, preferably between 16 and 18 inches.
After reaching the desired size, the plants are brought into the flower room to sit under high-pressure sodium lights. The plants are then harvested and brought to the cure room, where they hang upside down and new plants are brought into the flower room for the next cycle. They hang to dry for a few weeks in the cure room then continue hanging for a few weeks afterward, then are lastly trimmed and manicured.
The entire process takes between 15-20 weeks, Brearley said. In every cycle, East Coast Cannabis produces approximately three pounds of marijuana per light, and there are between 100 and 125 lights in the cultivation facility.
The slightly pungent plants, quelled by carbon filters outside the flower room, are stacked high in the flower room and spread out over 1,032 square feet, and the hanging plants in the 400 square foot cure room reach the ceiling. Folan called the cure room the “upside down club.”
Both Folan and Brearley credited the East Coast Cannabis team on the retail and cultivation side, saying every individual is a team player and is helping the business soar to new heights.
For them, the fun is only just beginning. “We know we have a mountain of work to do,” Folan said.