South Portland eyes timeout for marijuana discussion

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council next week is expected to take an initial vote on a six-month moratorium that would temporarily halt licenses for retail marijuana businesses

All but two councilors at a Monday, Nov. 14, workshop supported the moratorium, proposed in the wake of the statewide referendum vote Nov. 8 to legalize the possession, cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana by residents who are at least 21 years of age.

Mayor Tom Blake said the moratorium would give the city time to figure out if, where and in what parts of the city marijuana businesses should be allowed.

A first reading of the moratorium – which was proposed by city staff and not councilors, Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said – is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 21. 

Reny said the language of the state law does not require municipalities to issue licenses for marijuana-related retail businesses, and the moratorium would allow the city to determine whether it wants to allow those enterprises. 

“Should we create local regulations to address this, or should these types of businesses be categorized and defined and treated as other types of businesses?” Reny said. 

And since the city has already heard from interested business owners who want to open marijuana-centric businesses, “staff is recommending a moratorium so we can thoughtfully ask and answer these questions,” he said. 

Most councilors agreed decisions must be made on marijuana sales, similar to how the sale of liquor and alcohol is regulated.

South Portland isn’t the only municipality grappling with similar issues. The Portland City Council is expected to consider a proposal for a six-month moratorium at its Nov. 21 meeting, and the Cumberland Town Council on Monday enacted a two-month moratorium

Councilor Claude Morgan, who with Councilor Eben Rose opposed the moratorium, said he “would remind the council that citizens in South Portland have voted twice now, in good portions, to legalize and otherwise let marijuana out of the closet and consume it openly in our city. I’m listening to that.”

The city has “virtually no restrictions to folks who sell alcohol,” Morgan said, adding, “to me, this is really the same thing.”

The remaining five councilors agreed that, because of the unprecedented prospect of establishments that would deal in marijuana – which could mean anything from grow houses and retail stores to marijuana social clubs – it is only reasonable that the city take time to figure out where these uses fit in the city, or if they require new zoning. 

For example, Councilor Linda Cohen said, “We might want (marijuana) sold at the Maine Mall, but not grown there,”

“We don’t want a smoking club next to the Boys (and Girls) Club,” Blake said. “We don’t want a growing building in the middle of two houses.”

“This is a new experiment, and I think it is wise on our part to take a time out,” Blake added. “There are going to be no restrictions; we just want to protect our children and pick the right use and the right place.”

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

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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.