Portland council balks at fast-track move to block marijuana sales

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PORTLAND — An emergency push for a moratorium on marijuana sales stalled at Monday’s City Council meeting, but will get a Nov. 21 public hearing and vote.

Debate on the six-month moratorium proposed by Councilors Belinda Ray and Ed Suslovic capped a 3 1/2-hour meeting, where action on housing regulations and a moratorium on development on Sheridan Street were postponed to keep the meeting brief before Tuesday’s elections.

Councilors also approved requiring municipal buildings and larger commercial and residential buildings to disclose their energy use.

The marijuana sales moratorium wafted on to the agenda about six hours after city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin announced Ray and Suslovic wanted it passed that night.

Suslovic said they were acting on the advice of Corporation Council Danielle West Chuhta, whose reading of a statewide referendum on Tuesday’s ballot made her worry the city could face legal challenges if it didn’t act immediately.

“It is conservative, a worst-case scenario,” West Chuhta said about the likelihood a license could be granted before the city makes its own rules about sales.

Mayor Ethan Strimling and five councilors opposed the motion to waive a first reading on the moratorium. Suslovic, Ray and Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. favored it.

“From my perspective, we have a ton of time,” Strimling said. “I do think it politicizes it by having it the night before the election. It is just as easy for us to do this in a couple of weeks.”

Public comment on the moratorium came only during the period where speakers could discuss non-agenda items, because the moratorium was not on the council agenda.

David Boyer, the campaign manager for Yes on 1, which favors statewide legalization and regulation of marijuana sales, said the moratorium was politically motivated and unnecessary because the state has nine months to create the regulations on sales before local licenses can be granted.

The energy “benchmarking” rules, meanwhile, passed 6-3, with Mavodones and Councilors Jill Duson and David Brenerman opposed.

Energy and water use data from city buildings, commercial buildings of more than 20,000 square feet, and residential buildings with 50 or more units will have to be compiled and measured against an internet tool created by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

City Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon said the regulations would affect 225 commercial properties, 19 residential units and 40 city buildings. The private property owners would have a minimum of 2 1/2 years to comply.

Moon said there is no estimate on the cost of compiling and maintaining city records, but added the digital data format would be easier than working with paper submissions.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.