South Portland floats licensing homegrown commercial marijuana

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A city councilor wants to allow empty-nesters and others with green thumbs and spare bedrooms to grow marijuana for profit.

The proposal by Councilor Eben Rose at a May 22 workshop would allow residents to realize economic benefits by legally growing marijuana in their homes.

Current law allows adults over 21 to have up to six flowering, mature marijuana plants and 12 nonflowering, immature plants. The plants must be for personal use and can only be grown where they are not visible from a public right of way, and reasonable precautions must be taken to make them inaccessible to minors under 21.

Rose said six plants typically equal about 10 square feet of plant canopy.

He is proposing to allow residents to be licensed by the state to grow one block, or 100 square feet of canopy, roughly equal to the size of a small bedroom. Grow operations would be restricted to the indoors, and could include a requirement for a system that would prevent odors.

City attorney Sally Daggett confirmed that a license would be needed to grow marijuana beyond personal use.

Rose said he realizes “it is not for everyone … but neither is having a boarder in your house.”

Any marijuana grown would have to be sold to a licensed retailer. Between growing the plants and the point of sale, the small grower would be required to have the product tested for contaminants – chemicals, metal, pesticides and potency. Products would also have to labeled down to the batch.

Rose estimated an experienced, successful grower could net up to $10,000 a year from a small grow operation. He said residents could get into the business for as little as a few hundred dollars.

“My proposal is to allow home users to be brought out of the black market,” and compete with “highly capitalized industries coming from out of state,” he said.

Rose said he sees marijuana not as a question of “if we like it,” but how to make the economy work for the little guy.

Other councilors warmed to the proposal.

Councilor Brad Fox said he smoked a little when he was younger and he is not a fan, but the proposal seems like a good idea.

Councilor Linda Cohen said she would rather have people grow it and have it tested, which would be safer than some of the pot sold on the street.

But Cohen said she would worry that such home businesses could be targets for home invasions.

Mayor Patti Smith said she has been growing tomatoes in her home since March, and thinks there might be a lot of interest at first in growing pot. But when people start paying for equipment such as grow lights, she said, many will lose interest.

Councilor Claude Morgan compared the proposal to when the council allowed residents to keep backyard chickens. He said many residents were initially interested and many people obtained permits. But, Morgan said, there wasn’t a chicken coop in front of every home.

Morgan agreed with Smith that a grow operation would be a lot of work and many people would lose interest.

Councilor Maxine Beecher had some reservations, and wanted to know who would pay to test the plants.

Also during the 3 1/2-hour workshop, councilors tackled questions prepared by Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Director Joshua J. Reny on zoning for marijuana use.

They discussed cultivation, manufacturing, where they should fit in, including whether to have the Planning Board involved in businesses that set up a grow shop, odor control measures, and security requirements.

Another workshop discussing zoning questions and licensing aspects of social clubs will be scheduled for an undetermined date. City Manager Scott Morelli said the council would like to fast-track the issue, but the earliest a workshop could be held would be in July.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Edited May 26, 2017, to correct Councilor Linda Cohen’s concern about home invasions, and that Councilor Claude Morgan and Mayor Patti Smith suggested there may be loss of interest after the novelty wears off.