Two hydroponic cannabis plants [Wikimedia Commons]

Last week, staff on the city’s Marijuana Implementation Working Group proposed a temporary six-month moratorium on marijuana caregiver retail stores, manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities to the Portland City Council.

The proposal arrives partly in response to the medical marijuana reform bill the state Legislature approved in July, which opened the medical cannabis market to new patients, granted six new medical licenses, and relaxed rules regarding expanding medical cannabis business operations.

Since that bill passed, dozens of municipalities across the state have scrambled to pass moratoriums to allow more time to develop specific rules regarding where cannabis caregiver facilities can set up shop. Portland is now joining them.

The proposed moratorium would only last six months, start in July, would not impact lawful caregiver operations, and does not prohibit new caregivers who are not operating a retail store, manufacturing facility, or testing facility.

According to the city spokesperson Jessica Grondin, the moratorium gives the Council and staff time to adopt necessary zoning, licensing, and other regulatory requirements for these types of uses in order “to ensure that they are developed and located in such manner so that adverse impacts are mitigated.”

“The City Manager and staff have a responsibility to examine every aspect and learn all possible issues in advance so that we can suggest the best possible policy to the Council,” said Grondin. “We are taking this very seriously as we know there are always unintended consequences and we are doing our best to identify those in advance before suggesting any policies.”

Portland currently doesn’t have city regulations on marijuana facilities, and zoning laws don’t refer to marijuana grow houses or extraction labs. City Manager Jon Jennings wants to develop new zoning laws to keep these kind of operations out of residential neighborhoods, where some Portlanders have complained about their proximity with cannabis storefronts and other related facilities.

Besides residential zoning, the City Council is also looking into the potential impacts on traffic, excessive odor, fire and safety violations, dangerous extraction procedures, and school zones.

According to the city, another issue is the fact that some caregivers have started to operate their businesses as retails stores by “cycling” their fifth patient. The legality of these sorts of operations are questionable, and the city does not plan to take any action on these businesses until they get guidance from the state on its authority.

Maine has a network of 3,000 medical marijuana caregivers. City officials are only aware of about two dozen medical marijuana operations in Portland, and there are likely more because these businesses are not required to get a city permit.

Personally, I think it makes sense that the city “goes slow” and works to develop city specific rules regarding these businesses. Some caregivers might be annoyed with the potential for more delays, but as long as the new rules don’t retroactively prohibit existing businesses, or impose such tight restrictions that it makes it difficult for new caregivers to get started, it’s smart to ensure that Portland complies with whatever standards are put in place at the state level. Besides, whatever ends up working for medical cannabis could easily work for recreational storefronts, which cannabis entrepreneurs hope to establish next spring.

The Portland City Council will vote on this moratorium during their next meeting on September 17.

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