North Yarmouth policy puts pot businesses on hold

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Select Board on Dec. 19 approved a policy that blocks applications for retail marijuana businesses.

As directed by the board, Town Manager Rosemary Roy had discussed such a policy with the town attorney. Instead of recommending a moratorium, like nearby towns Falmouth and Yarmouth enacted, Roy presented policy language that has been adopted by other Maine communities.

Neighboring Cumberland in May unanimously banned retail marijuana sales, following a moratorium on such sales. Medical marijuana dispensaries are already allowed in the town’s Office Commercial North zone on U.S. Route 1, although there are none there.

North Yarmouth’s action is a response to the passage by state voters in November 2016 of the Marijuana Legalization Act, which permits retail marijuana sales, cultivation, social clubs, manufacturing, and testing facilities, according to the policy language.

Although the law took effect in January 2017, the state has delayed implementation to Feb. 1, 2018, to allow the Legislature time to develop licensing rules for retail marijuana social clubs and establishments. Such operations are banned until Feb. 1, and the law empowers municipalities to further regulate their operation, location and licensing.

“At this time, and until further notice, the Town will not accept any applications for a business license, building permit, certificate of occupancy, site plan review, conditional use, or any other approval for the operation of any facility, building, or property related to the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, sale or consumption of retail marijuana,” the policy states.

The policy is to be used until state regulations are determined. At that point the town can decide whether to regulate or ban retail marijuana establishments, Roy told the Select Board Dec. 19.

“This gives our code enforcement officer a little bit of guidance until then,” she added.

The retail marijuana question narrowly passed in North Yarmouth – 1,382 to 1,251 – in November 2016.

“Our community’s been asking for this for quite a while,” Selectwoman Anne Graham said. “… I think this is a very important step.”

It is legal in town to grow medical marijuana, but two neighbors to such operations have complained about the odors produced from the growth process, which is akin to skunk spray, Roy said.

The town has odor provisions in its land use code, which the code enforcement officer is using to tackle the matter, she noted. There is no concrete number of medical marijuana growth operations in town, since there is no registration or permit required, Roy added.

The Select Board voted 4-0 in favor of the policy, with Peter Lacy abstaining.  Due to it being his final meeting on the panel, given his impending move to Cumberland, he did not feel he should vote on “that type of going forward policy,” he noted the following day.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.