South Portland marijuana moratorium passes 1st test

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city will likely follow Portland and Cumberland and enact a six-month moratorium on licenses to dispense and/or operate recreational marijuana businesses. 

The City Council measure passed unanimously, with Councilor Claude Morgan absent, in a first reading Nov. 21. It must be approved in a second reading before the temporary ban is enacted. 

Councilors also approved the South Portland Police Department’s application for an 18-month Substance Abuse Assistance Project Grant, which would allow the department to hire a civilian officer as a liaison between the department andpeople affected by substance abuse, Deputy Chief Amy Berry said Monday. 

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 impacts of the law.

Interim City Manager Don Gerrish restated what some councilors said in the workshop earlier this month, when a moratorium was first discussed: “We’re not voting against what’s going on … we just want to make sure we have the right information.”

Mayor Tom Blake said there are four major areas to focus on, in terms of setting parameters for zoning and licenses: growing, selling, marijuana social clubs, and research-and-development facilities. 

Similar to the six-month freeze on licenses approved in Portland on Monday night, the South Portland City Council would take the time to examine existing zoning and determine where to allow marijuana retail and business establishments. 

“We’re not saying that you can’t smoke, that you can’t possess the 2.5 ounces,” Councilor Linda Cohen said. “We realize that these establishments are going to be wanting to come into our city, and we need to make sure they’re not plucking down next to a playground or a Boys and Girls Club … or a residential neighborhood.” 

But Councilor Eben Rose said part of the city’s process needs to include an effort to de-stigmatize the use of marijuana for the general public.

The use and cultivation of marijuana has “a long history of stigma that is now becoming normalized,” said Rose, who advised his fellow councilors to “start thinking of this as a legitimate business.”

The proposal will come back to the council for a second reading Monday, Dec. 19.

Substance abuse grant 

The Police Department received support from the council Monday to apply for grant money from the state to fund a Substance Use Disorder Assistant Liaison. 

The grant totaling more than $111,000 would fund the position for a year and a half, at an annual salary of $52,000, plus about $22,000 in benefits.

The individual selected for the position would be a “licensed clinical professional who provides outreach and support to drug users referred by police officers and through other sources,” according to the proposal that was presented to the council Monday. 

“We have a lot of calls, anecdotally, related to substance abuse,” Berry told councilors. 

The department is “trying to get more toward treating the cause, as opposed to just treating the actual behavior that’s resulting from it,” she said. 

“There are many people in this state that need mental health or substance abuse treatment that do not have insurance,” Police Chief Ed Googins said. Those individuals are “exactly who we need to target,” because many of them are “falling through the cracks.”

According to the grant proposal, the liason will initiate a program that will “provide integrated and comprehensive service to people with substance abuse disorder” by “coordinating a community-based response to drug-related calls for service” and “facilitate communication between (treatment) providers,” “provide outreach to potential clients,” and work to “reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse disorder.”  

Councilor Eben Rose praised the department’s move to make “such an overt commitment to community policing.”

“This is, I think, a classic example of solving a problem from a very human level and not focusing on incarceration or punishment,” Rose said. 

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.