South Portland enacts pot moratorium, advances energy benchmarks

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city on Monday joined the ranks of Maine communities enacting moratoriums on licenses for marijuana businesses.

The City Council also approved the first reading of an energy benchmarking provision for municipal buildings and buildings larger than 5,000 square feet in the Mill Creek neighborhood, or residential buildings with 10 or more units.

If approved by councilors in a second reading, property owners would, in one year, be required to publicly record how much energy their buildings use.

The six-month moratorium approved Monday night by a 5-1 vote, with Councilor Claude Morgan opposed, will be enacted retroactively for 180 days from Nov. 21, when the council approved the measure in a first reading.  

Following the passage of a statewide referendum Nov. 8 to legalize the possession, cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana by residents who are at least 21 years of age, city officials proposed the moratorium to allow time to determine the potential impacts.

South Portland joins Portland and other surrounding municipalities, including Cumberland and Westbrook, in enacting a moratorium on all uses of non-medical marijuana.

State departments have up to nine months to promulgate rules around the new law. Considering that the city’s moratorium would be in effect during that period, some councilors cited the redundancy as a reason to not enact the measure.

“I think we have much more time than we are allowing ourselves here,” Morgan said at the Dec. 19 meeting. “I think we have an abundance of time here, and I’ve never been one for moratoriums. I think you pull out moratoriums for extreme measures.”

The city has, in the past, used a moratorium as a way to “change the rules mid-game,” Morgan said, referring to the council’s failed attempt earlier this year to use a moratorium to restrict new above-ground liquefied petroleum gas storage tanks in certain areas. Those efforts were largely criticized as a measure to block an application from NGL Supply Co. to build a storage facility in Rigby Rail Yard. NGL later withdrew its application

Calling marijuana legalization on such a scale “a new frontier,” Mayor Patti Smith said, “I think the responsible and prudent thing to do is to study the matter.”

During the moratorium the city will, among other things, determine in which zones marijuana shops, grow facilities and social clubs should be located, as well as how to regulate the licensing process and the businesses. 

Councilor Linda Cohen noted that, even though South Portland residents have now voted in favor of the use of medical marijuana twice – the first time in 2012 – she’s still “fairly certain” the voters don’t want any marijuana-related facilities “sitting next to the Boys and Girls Club, next to an elementary school or any of our schools, for that matter.”

Councilor Maxine Beecher said that the idea of a marijuana social club “is a phrase that can be a little bit scary, and I certainly don’t want (one) next door to me.”

Councilor Eben Rose said the perceived stigma surrounding marijuana use needs to be overcome.

“Seventy years-plus of prohibition of marijuana looks like it’s experiencing its sunset,” Rose said. “As difficult as it is for many of us to wrap our heads around it, this is the wave of the future.

“And you know what?” Rose added. “We’re going to be OK.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.