2018-03-02 / Community News

Council extends marijuana moratorium

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The town council decided last week to adopt another moratorium on retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs in order to buy some time until the Legislature decides how use and sale of marijuana will be regulated by the state.

“The thought process and strategy when the moratorium was first imposed by this council was to allow the state legislature to work through its rules making so we could get a better sense of what protections, if any, may be coming from the state to better inform what additions, if any, we would have to do locally. I don’t know the exact status of that process, but it is certainly not completed,” Town Manager Tom Hall said in introducing the item to the council at its Feb. 21 meeting.

A six-month moratorium was first put in place but the council in September 2017. The council’s action last week would extend the moratorium until Sept. 15, 2018.

“It jut think it makes sense. From what I have seen from Maine Municipal (Association) and what’s crossed my desk, they don’t know what they are doing up in Augusta yet, we might as well put a moratorium on this,” councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said.

The Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legislation Implementation on Friday, Feb. 23, agreed to set a 10 percent tax on retail marijuana sales tax, a 21.5 percent tax on wholesale marijuana and limit the amount of marijuana plants individuals can have for personal use to three.

The bill, if passed, wouldn’t limit the amount of commercial licenses or allow for recreational marijuana use in public or at a social club. The proposal would still have to be approved by the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage, something that didn’t happen with the select committee’s first proposal.

Councilor Will Rowan said he supports the moratorium but worries extending the moratorium another six months may not be long enough to get all the state laws situated.

“Here we are again finding ourselves in the position of waiting for guidance from Augusta,” said councilor Chris Caiazzo, who as filling in as chairman in Bill Donovan’s stead. “I do think it is more prudent to have them get the rules in place first so we know what we are dealing with and how we are legally supposed to address it. I don’t think we are certainly in a position to contradict the law by any stretch, but we do need some guidance, so I support the moratorium.”

The moratorium states “no person shall establish or operate a business or operation of a retail marijuana establishment and/or marijuana social club with the town of Scarborough that was proposed on or after the effective date of this ordinance.”

While the moratorium prohibits town staff from issuing building permits and permits of occupancy to recreational marijuana businesses, it doesn’t bar the council from adopting local regulations between now and when the moratorium sunsets.

“You can certainly take action at any time during (the moratorium), but this hits the pause button,” Hall said.

Hall said another moratorium couldn’t be put in place when this one expires in September. By that point, the council must have taken some sort of action, whether that means allowing the sale, cultivation, manufacturing and use of marijuana at social clubs, regulating certain marijuana activities to certain areas of town or banning the aforementioned uses all together.

Two of Scarborough’s neighbors have already taken action. Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough’s neighbor to the north, outlawed retail marijuana establishments completely. In mid-August, the town council passed an ordinance prohibiting recreational marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, testing, retail sales and social clubs.

The Cape Elizabeth ordinance, which was drafted by Town Attorney John Wall, states “no person or organization shall develop or operate a business in the Town of Cape Elizabeth that engages in wholesale sales of a recreational marijuana product.” Nothing in the ordinance, it goes on to say “is intended to prohibit any lawful use, possession or conduct pursuant to the Maine Medical Marijuana Act” or limit the personal use of recreational marijuana as defined by the Act to Legalize Marijuana, which Maine voters passed in November 2016.

South Portland chose not to extend a moratorium in May 2017 that would have expired Nov. 30, opting to discuss the possibility of imposing local regulations at a workshop level. In November 2017, the city council adopted a series of rules that stipulated where, and under what conditions marijuana could be grown, manufactured and offered for retail sale.

Retail marijuana operations are banned in most residential neighborhoods, but indoor growing operation (limited to a plant canopy of 10,000 square feet, is allowed by special exception in the village residential and rural residential districts. Retail shops cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school, 300 feet of a church or 300 feet from a similar operation. Retail stores are required to follow state and local rules regarding food preparation and sale of edible products and have to install odor control mechanisms and lock its trash cans. License fees are $300 to $1,400 depending on the scope of the business and are subject to review by the city within the first year.

Councilor Katy Foley voted in favor of the moratorium, but asked her fellow councilors if the body should “think about what we want to do” so councilors are not scrambling to act when this moratorium sunsets in September.

“I think it would behoove us to start getting some ideas on paper,” she said.

Hall said since the board as a whole has never had a discussion about how it may want to regulate retail marijuana locally, “it would be wise to start to have those conversations.

Caterina, chairman of the ordinance committee, said her group could take the issue up in April and come up with a recommendation to present to the council.

“It would behoove us to at least get some ideas down on paper,” Foley said.

There has been some interest expressed about bringing a retail marijuana establishment to Scarborough. In February 2017, 2003 Scarborough High School graduate Nial DeMena appeared before the ordinance committee to express interest in bringing his company Temescal Wellness to town.

Marijuana, he said, is the largest growing industry in America and there are “many responsible ways to bring that to a community like Scarborough.”

Allowing an operation like that, which grows, produces and sells marijuana and meets regulations in other states it operates in, would help to meet the demand in the local market, while limiting the amount of product that is cultivated, produced and sold in an irresponsible manner, DeMena said. When, or if, leaders open the town up for marijuana establishments, De- Mena would be looking for entering into a “community host agreement” with Scarborough. Under such an agreement, the town could receive a $25,000 to $50,000 fee and a quarter to one percent of revenue over the first 10 years.

“Now is the time to be proactive about it and engage with companies you want to be here instead of just banning it,” he said at the time.

He said his company, which could create 10 to 25 new jobs within a five-year period, has looked at properties that are “isolated” from populated areas.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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