BRUNSWICK — The Planning Board narrowly passed a recommendation Sept. 11 that would allow marijuana-related facilities only in the town’s industrial district.
Several local proprietors of medical marijuana operations spoke against the recommendation by the Marijuana Policy Working Group during the three-hour meeting.
The measure passed 4-3, with Chairman Charlie Frizzle, Gary Ballerini, Bill Dana and M. Kelly Matzen in favor and Rob Burgess, Jane Arbuckle and Sande Updegraph opposed. The measure will now go before the Town Council, which will decide the issue; a public hearing will be held before a council vote.
The group recommends all five uses – cultivation, medical marijuana storefronts, product manufacturing, and testing – be allowed only within the Growth Industrial District, with a minimum 500-foot setback from schools and all uses conducted indoors.
The district includes part of Brunswick Landing southeast of the airport. Other industrial zones are on the west side of town off Church Road just south of the railroad tracks, known as “industrial parkway,” according to Matt Panfil, director of planning and development, as well as the east side of town on Bath Road, just north of Route 1.
The recommendation comes as the town’s third and final 180-day moratorium on retail and medical marijuana facilities is set to expire in November.
State law allows municipalities to zone the uses of certain types of facilities, and also allows towns to license those facilities.
Town Manager John Eldridge said both the zoning and licensing will ultimately rest with the town, but because of delays by the Legislature in creating licensing rules, the town was “pretty much handicapped” when it came to licensing.
Because of the two components involved, he said town staff felt it was important to have a task force – made up of people from the Planning Department, the School Department, health officials, town councilors and citizens – to look at both simultaneously.
Eldridge said the most significant change in state law in the two years since passage of a statewide referendum to allow recreational use of marijuana, is that towns now need to “opt in” to allow commercial sales.
“If you do nothing, you’re a ‘dry town,’ for a lack of a better description, so that’s a major change,” he said.
Debora King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association, spoke out against any facilities being allowed in the downtown area.
“We don’t want to give anyone an excuse not to come downtown,” she said.
More than one resident, however, spoke in favor of facilities being allowed outside the industrial zone, especially medical marijuana stores.
Resident George Anderson, who said he represents cannabis dispensary Modern Horticulture, said people like him should “be allowed to advertise” their industry.
Melissa Roberts, owner of Stone Coast Cannabis, a medical marijuana facility on Bath Road, said she has driven through areas identified as the Growth Industrial District, but “didn’t see anything resembling available real estate.”
Jason Smith, a medical marijuana caregiver, said it is the “little guys” who cannot afford high real estate costs that will be affected by being limited to the industrial zone.
“In the industrial park, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put a retail establishment,” he said. “With that being said, I’m putting retail in an industrial park in Lisbon, so we’re gonna see how it goes.”
The board discussed the pros and cons of limiting facilities to the industrial zone, signage, distance from schools, and whether medical marijuana and retail marijuana should be considered together.
Zachary Soper, owner of Zach’s Country Store on Gurnet Road, said he has been a caregiver for three years and a distinction should be made between the two.
“I think it’s very important that we draw a fine line between recreational and medical,” he said. “There is different legislation for both. There is not really any legislation for recreational right now – it’s a mess – whereas we are headed in an OK path when it comes to the medical program.”
Later in the meeting, Police Cmdr. Mark Waltz said though some people use medical marijuana appropriately, frequently, especially with a rule that allows a caregiver’s fifth patient to be “rotating,” it’s been used “as basically … a scam for retail.”
“So for the most part, we viewed the medical marijuana similar to retail because we’re not talking about the caregivers that are growing the few plants,” he said. “What we’re focusing on is the people that are selling to the general public in large numbers.”
Some members of the Planning Board felt medical marijuana storefronts and retailers should be considered separately.
Arbuckle said she thinks medical storefronts “should be treated differently,” than retail, and said she did not agree with limiting them to the industrial zone.
Updegraph also spoke in favor of keeping retail and medical zoning separate.
“In my mind, taking medical out does help define it as a separate entity,” she said.
Frizzle said there are some “significant changes coming down the pike from the state” about medical storefronts, to eliminate the rotating fifth patient rule.
“When we see what those are, perhaps we can (re-evaluate) the ordinance at that point to recognize that they’re not in the same category as some of these other uses,” he said.
Town Manager John Eldridge opened the Sept. 11 meeting of the Brunswick Planning Board, where a recommendation to be sent to councilors on marijuana zoning was approved.