Portland backs off emergency ban on marijuana dispensaries

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PORTLAND — The City Council is expected to decide whether Portland should join the list of municipalities with temporary bans on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Mainers voted last year to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The council was prepared to take emergency action on a moratorium on Monday, June 7, but then shelved the decision until June 21.

Dan Walker, an attorney with Preti Flaherty who helped craft language for the original referendum in November and served on a task force created by the governor following that vote, said he was not notified by the city until last Friday that the emergency vote was  planned.

The decision to back off the emergency action came after supporters of medical marijuana dispensaries told city officials they would like more time to study the proposed moratorium language.

Although the City Council usually gives interested parties notice of upcoming votes by having a first reading two weeks before a public hearing and vote are scheduled, the marijuana dispensary vote was placed on the June 7 agenda as an emergency order. That means the public would have heard the item for the first time at the same meeting where it would have been voted on by the council.

Walker said he had not expected Portland to consider a moratorium, and he does not think it will be approved by the council.

“Portland is a progressive city,” he said. “It seems like this is the place (a dispensary) should be.”

Walker is working with the Northeast Patients Group, a new organization that plans to submit applications to open dispensaries in the state.

While many towns and cities have enacted moratoriums on dispensaries, most did so earlier in the year. Portland’s moratorium, if passed, would go into effect just days before the application deadline for dispensaries.

“It definitely would hinder it,” Walker said.

Last November, Mainers voted to authorize medical marijuana dispensaries and for primary care givers to provide marijuana to registered patients.

South Portland approved a six-month moratorium in February, so the city could draft zoning to address medical marijuana distribution. Westbrook also enacted a temporary ban.

Under state laws set by a legislative committee in May, one dispensary is allowed in each of 8 regions in the state. Cumberland County is one region.

Those hoping to open a dispensary have to file with the state by June 24. According to City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg, a Portland moratorium, if passed, will not stop a dispensary from filing to open, but would delay any such openings until at least the end of the year.

If the moratorium is approved June 21, it would be retroactive to June 7 and would expire Dec. 3. The six-month ban is meant to allow the city time to draft zoning regulations for growing and distributing medical marijuana.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net