Portland councilors reject temporary ban on pot dispensaries

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PORTLAND — The city will not delay the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary, should one apply to do business here.

The City Council on Monday unanimously rejected a proposed moratorium on the facilities, which the city attorney drafted to give the city time to come up with zoning to regulate the dispensaries.

The moratorium would have stalled dispensary applications that reached City Hall until December.

Instead, the council approved a preliminary proposal by Councilor David Marshall to limit dispensaries to downtown, and also areas in the city’s business zone. The business zone consideration was proposed by Councilor Dan Skolnik.

The council sent the proposal to the Planning Board for review. It will eventually come back to the council for final approval. No specific date was set.

“I’d like the Planning Board to report back to us as soon as possible,” said Mayor Nick Mavodones.

Maine voters approved allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in the state last November. In April, the state legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee set rules for the dispensaries, allowing just one per county and setting a state application deadline for June 25.

No one has submitted an application to open shop in Portland yet, according to City Attorney Gary Wood.

Several municipalities passed moratoriums on dispensaries earlier this year. But Portland’s proposed temporary ban didn’t surface until this month, surprising medical marijuana advocates who viewed Portland as the likely location for the Cumberland County dispensary. They also pointed to last year’s election, which saw a large percentage of Portland voters approve the dispensary law.

John Eder, a former state legislator from the West End, told the council it was embarrassing that the city was considering a moratorium.

“Seventy-five percent of voters in Portland were in favor of this,” said Eder.

Others urged councilors to show compassion for people who either already depend on medical marijuana, or who are hoping to use the drug for pain relief.

The moratorium would have temporarily stopped caregivers and medical marijuana growers from operating – two practices which have been legal and happening in the city for a decade.

“It criminalizes patients,” said Maine Civil Liberties Union public policy counsel Alysia Melnick.

Chris Kenoyer is a medical marijuana patient who said he suffers from degenerative disc disease. He said using marijuana for pain relief stops him from being a pill junkie.

“We want the dispensary here in Portland,” said Kenoyer.

Councilors unanimously voted down the proposed moratorium with little comment.

“It’s taken long enough,” Marshall said. “Patients want this now.”

Marshall said he proposed the downtown business zones as a dispensary location because the areas provided easy access to public transportation. Councilor Kevin Donoghue echoed Marshall’s sentiments.

While much of Portland, as well as some of South Portland, Westbrook and Falmouth has access to public transportation, a dispensary in Portland would serve the entire county, making access to parking a necessity.

Dan Walker, an attorney for Northeast Patients Group, last week sent a letter to the city requesting that the so-called B2 zone be included because many sites in the downtown business zones do not include on-site parking, which is required by law.

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