Portland City Council approves marijuana dispensary zones

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PORTLAND — The City Council cleared the way Monday night for medical marijuana dispensaries to be opened in any of several business zones.

The council also voted to allow medical marijuana cultivation facilities in the city’s industrial zones.

And in other business, councilors approved an 18-month contract with the firefighters union.

The contract, with Local 740, does not contain base wage increases through Dec. 31, 2011. The city agreed not to lay off any firefighters during the same time period.

Don Brewer, the acting director of the city’s Human Resources Department, said the leaders of Local 740 proposed the terms and deserve credit for the contract.

“In hard economic times, this is a very thoughtful and good-faith agreement,” Councilor Dory Waxman said.

The medical marijuana dispensary zoning allows dispensaries to operate in the B-2 community business zones, B-3 downtown business zones and B-7 zones.

In November 2009, voters approved allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The Legislature decided to limit the number of dispensaries to eight, with no more than one per county.

Northeast Patients Group, the organization chosen by the state July 8 to run a dispensary in Portland, is currently negotiating a lease with the owners of the former KeyBank building at the corner of Congress and St. John streets.

While the location is in the correct zone, it may be disqualified because of its proximity to a small, private school operated at the Deliverance Center on Congress Street. State rules don’t allow dispensaries within 500 feet of private or public schools.

The state Department of Health and Human Services is determining whether the Deliverance Center school qualifies because it isn’t licensed by the state. John Martins, a spokesman for the department, said Monday afternoon that a decision had not yet been reached.

Northeast Patients Group Executive Director Rebecca DeKeuster told councilors Monday night that the KeyBank building was one of several they had identified as a potential location.

DeKeuster, who worked in dispensaries in California and on policy issues in that state, said the Portland zoning is well crafted and has already attracted attention from communities across the nation.

“Portland’s approach is going to make it a model for not only Maine, but for city’s across the (country),” DeKeuster said.

Councilors and Planning Board members who reviewed the zoning wanted to make sure dispensaries are located near public transportation, while also providing plenty of parking.

The council also approved allowing growing facilities in industrial zones. Marijuana can be grown on site at dispensaries, but the city wanted to give operators the option of having separate growing facilities.

Northeast Patients Group has no immediate plans to grow marijuana in Portland. The group was chosen to run three other dispensaries in the state and plans to do all its growing in Hermon.

The Portland dispensary is expected to open in December.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-366 ext. 106 or [email protected]