Medical pot shop moratorium vote set

BAR HARBOR — Medical marijuana providers, known as caregivers in the state’s rules, most often grow and sell marijuana in their homes. But the state’s medical marijuana law expressly allows caregivers to operate retail stores for the sale of harvested medical marijuana to qualified patients.

The town council voted unanimously Aug. 7 to enact an emergency 60-day moratorium on such stores, as well as public facilities for the production and testing of medical marijuana in Bar Harbor.

A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 4 to get feedback on whether to extend the moratorium for an additional 180 days.

The emergency moratorium is allowed by two amendments to the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act. The changes were LD 238 and LD 1539 in the 128th Legislature.

The amendments were passed in order to give municipalities the same local control they now have over marijuana establishments under the Adult Use Marijuana Act.

Under to the Adult Use Marijuana Act passed earlier this year, municipalities may vote to allow recreational marijuana retailers within town lines. If a town does not specifically vote to allow those retailers, they cannot open.

After that bill passed, the Bar Harbor town council voted in June to take no action to allow recreational marijuana establishments until they can study the matter further.

The June vote did not address the possibility of medical marijuana retail shops, because the Adult Use Marijuana Bill only covered recreational marijuana retailers.

The new amendments extend the same rights for municipalities to limit or otherwise regulate medical marijuana businesses. LD 238 in particular was an emergency bill that takes effect immediately, allowing towns time to review their land use ordinance to see how they would regulate such businesses when and if they are allowed.

The language of the proposed moratorium defines “medical marijuana retail store” as an “establishment having the attributes of a typical retail establishment, such as, but not limited to, signage, regular business hours, [and] accessibility to the public…”

The City of Ellsworth enacted a similar moratorium after an existing Main Street business began providing medical marijuana under a caregiver license.

Bar Harbor Planning Director Janna Richards urged town councilors to enact the emergency moratorium at the Aug. 7 meeting. The reason, she explained, was to prevent any such facilities from opening before the town could put regulations in place. Such businesses, she said, would “be grandfathered into that town” even if regulations were imposed at a later date.

“The council hasn’t taken a policy stance on whether or not they want these types of establishments to occur in this municipality,” she said, “and the planning board has not taken a look at how they would be regulated in this municipality. So from a public health, safety, and welfare standpoint, a moratorium [should] be highly considered by the council at this time.”

Richards said the moratorium does not prevent caregivers from prescribing marijuana to patients. It does not affect anyone who grows their own medicinally. It simply regulates providers who want to open a store front for retail marijuana sales.

The Maine Municipal Association (MMA) has also recommended that towns pass the emergency moratorium, because it allows towns the time to set policies according to the new amendments, which “recognize municipal home rule authority to regulate” retail medical marijuana.

“I understand in this particular set of circumstances the need to create a moratorium,” councilor Judith Noonan said, “but my big concern is that we’re not really addressing the issue. When do we step up and start looking at the land use ordinance, and start looking at the rules and regulations, and start actually making a policy for this? At some point we need to make a decision.”

Councilor Paul Paradis said passing the emergency moratorium would allow the Town Council time to do that.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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