South Portland considers 6-month ban on medicinal marijuana sales

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council is poised to enact a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

The proposal was discussed at a workshop Monday night. It has the support of the Police Department and four of the seven councilors, some of whom admitted they did not know exactly what they were voting on during the last election, when voters across the state approved expanding access to medicinal marijuana.

“This is what I voted for,” Councilor Linda Boudreau said, holding up the proposed law. “I thought pharmacies were going to be handling this.”

In November, voters approved by a nearly 2-1 margin allowing non-profit dispensaries to grow and distribute medicinal marijuana to certain types of patients. Gov. John Baldacci convened a task force to study the issue and make recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services, which will draft specific regulations.

Mayor Tom Coward said he wants a moratorium on dispensaries as a proactive measure to properly regulate where dispensaries can be located as well as how many will be allowed in the city.

“I’m interested in the orderly consideration of this,” Coward said.

Attorney Sally Daggett said the city has received many inquiries from people interested in setting up dispensaries in South Portland. Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette said on Wednesday she has received calls from about seven people, including four from out of state.

Once the state rules are finalized, Daggett said, any applicant who has undergone at least one substantial review would be entitled to set up shop anywhere if the city does not enact a moratorium or zoning restrictions.

“This will stop us from being pushed by people making applications,” Coward said.

Councilors Tom Blake, Patti Smith and Rosemarie DeAngelis all opposed the moratorium. They said it is premature since the state has yet to draft regulations. All three implied that the city has more pressing issues to consider.

“We’re jumping the gun,” Blake said. “We have a lot of burning issues in our community; this is not one of them.”

The council also received a draft proposal for areas where dispensaries could be established, all in the west end. While councilors agreed that dispensaries should not be located in residential neighborhoods, they disagreed about how tight the zoning restrictions should be throughout the rest of the city.

“I don’t have any problem with the intent of the law,” Boudreau said. “But this is bizarre, inviting problems into our community.”

Smith said it is too early to judge the marijuana program, because the council doesn’t have all of the information.

“A lot of the concerns that have been raised is a little like fear-mongering,” she said.

If the moratorium is approved, it will be retroactive to the Jan. 11 workshop date.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or