Cease and desist served to caregiver

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — As town officials work to create an ordinance regarding marijuana businesses in town, slated to go before voters in June, one medical marijuana caregiver has already opened up shop.

Operating without an opt-in vote in place or Planning Board approval for the business, Jesse Wallace, owner of Island Herb located in the Seal Cove Shops, was served a cease and desist order from the town on Friday, March 6. It was served on the grounds that Wallace had not gone before the Planning Board to apply for either a change of use or a business permit.

As of Tuesday, a flag with a green cross — what has become the universal symbol for medical marijuana — flew outside the business, located next to a children’s boutique called Little Islanders.

“The CEO issued a cease and desist order on Friday that has been ignored,” Town Manager Justin VanDongen wrote in a memo to selectmen.

Wallace is a licensed medical marijuana caregiver and attended the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday night. Medical marijuana caregivers are allowed to sell to customers independent of a storefront and the number of caregivers in a town can not be limited by the municipality, according to state law.

Medical marijuana caregivers have attended previous board meetings to participate in discussions regarding the town’s process to put the choice of opting in before voters. Those operating as caregivers in Southwest Harbor and neighboring communities said they often meet customers in parking lots to make legal exchanges because they do not want customers coming to their home.

“I’m operating as an office only, by appointment only,” Wallace told selectmen at the meeting. “I did talk to my lawyers and they said I’m fine to keep operating.”

When asked if he was selling marijuana from the location, Wallace told selectmen he was. In Maine, towns need to opt-in to allow sales, cultivation, testing or manufacturing of medical or adult-use marijuana products.

No towns in Hancock County have voted to opt-in to hosting any adult-use facilities at this point. Any medical marijuana storefronts operating before December 2018, with municipal approval, are grandfathered in to continue operating. Island Herb was opened after the beginning of 2020.

“What license are you operating under?” Selectman Ryan Donahue asked him. “A caregiver license, right? The loophole you’re calling out here is difficult for me to grasp.”

VanDongen told board members he had reached out to the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy to ask about the state license being issued without local approval. He was told the process could take weeks and the state relies on towns to take action against a business owner if they find them to be in violation. VanDongen requested funds in the case any legal action was pursued regarding the violation.

Selectmen voted unanimously to allow funds to be expended from the legal services account.

“We’ll just allow the court to settle the issue,” said VanDongen.

Last fall, a straw poll presented to residents during the November election showed the town was relatively evenly divided on the topic of opting in for adult-use or medical marijuana businesses. Voters favored all types of businesses except cultivation facilities, but only by a small margin, except for the medical marijuana caregiver retail stores. That vote got the most support from voters with 212 in favor and 152 against the idea. Results of the straw poll were non-binding and meant to be a gauge on whether town officials should move forward in drafting an ordinance or rules regarding marijuana businesses operating in the town.

A marijuana committee was formed to create an ordinance that was intended to go before voters at this year’s annual town meeting in May. That ordinance is currently going to the town’s attorney for review and is not slated to go before voters until June.


Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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