South Portland advances rules for medical marijuana growers, retailers

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Planning Board on Wednesday recommended the City Council move ahead with regulations that would welcome medical marijuana growers and retailers.

The draft zoning and licencing amendments include several changes, including defining types of medical marijuana businesses and the commercial and industrial zoning districts where the businesses would be allowed. 

Cultivation facilities may also be allowed to sell some product.

The ordinance would not affect home-based unregistered caregivers, but would regulate registered caregivers and caregiver storefronts, registered caregiver cultivation facilities, and manufacturing and testing facilities for medical marijuana products, according to the city.

The ordinance would also update zoning policy related to dispensaries, allowing them in all of the same zones that now allow adult-use marijuana stores and cultivation, and would increase the limit of only one in the city.

Several proponents at the meeting said they are pleased with this change, since only allowing one in the city would limit competition.

Site plan review by the Planning Board would be required to start an adult use and medical marijuana business, and applicants would also be required to submit a security plan, according to the proposal. 

Similar to recreational retail shops, medical marijuana storefronts would be prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools or within 300 feet of places of worship, measured from property lines.

Adult-use marijuana testing facilities do not require a city license, and none would be required of medical marijuana testing facilities unless the council decides otherwise. The Planning Board was limited to discussing zoning regulations at Wednesday’s meeting. 

The city first began considering how to manage recreational and medical marijuana storefronts in February after it received several inquiries from prospective businesses interested in opening medical marijuana offices and storefronts.

Last November, the council voted on rules for establishing retail cannabis businesses. Most other municipalities in the area, including Scarborough, have enacted moratoriums to give them more time to adopt regulations consistent with state law.

The unanimous vote to send the ordinance to the council’s Aug. 21 meeting came after discussions that mostly focused on security and odor. The board decided that the product should be kept secure, within an enclosed area, and also a third party should review odor compliance, whether at the property line or at the door of a facility.

Board member Katherine Gatti said there are ventilation systems that can mitigate odor, and said that should be a condition of approval.

Caregiver Matt Davis said there still seems to be a bit of a “reefer madness” stigma associated with marijuana businesses, and odor would be similar to bakeries and restaurants.

“It shouldn’t reek up the neighborhood, but at the door, there will be an odor,” he said. 

The board also considered the possibility of grower cooperatives, or several individuals growing personal-use marijuana on a single parcel of land.

Board member Mary DeRose said she would like to allow this option for people unable to pay to start a business on their own, and to provide the opportunity for entrepreneurial growth in the city. 

South Portland voted in 2014 to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.

State law now allows individuals to cultivate three flowering plants, 12 immature plants, and an unlimited number of seedlings for personal use on their property.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka. 

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