South Portland Planning Board unenthusiastically backs marijuana licensing moratorium

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Although most members said they were unconvinced a moratorium is needed, the Planning Board on Tuesday recommended a six-month temporary halt in licensing of retail marijuana businesses. 

The vote was unanimous, although three of the seven board members – Isaac Misiuk, Kevin Carr and Kathleen Phillips – were absent.

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 what the local impacts of the law will be.

The City Council voted unanimously in a first reading last month for a 180-day moratorium, and sent the proposal to the Planning Board for a recommendation before councilors hold a second and final reading Monday, Dec. 19. 

On Tuesday night, Planning Board members questioned the need for a moratorium since the state will be allowed to take up to nine months to determine rules for the new law.

But most members also agreed a moratorium wouldn’t do any harm, either. 

“Where is the need for a moratorium until that nine months has expired?” board member Taylor Neff said at the Dec. 13 meeting. 

Board member Linda Boudreau said the city “need(s) to know the rules of the game,” and a moratorium could afford that opportunity. But Boudreau questioned the need to push the pause button now – particularly when one of the requisites for implementing a moratorium is a threat of “serious public harm.”

Neff said she shares the “skepticism that a case has been made for serious public harm.”

Board Chairman William Laidley said he reluctantly supports the moratorium, but “didn’t really see the point.”

One resident urged the board to back the proposal.

Matt Bayliss, of Walnut Street, is a marijuana caregiver, which means he grows and prescribes medical marijuana to clients with physical or mental ailments. He said he is in favor of a moratorium and thinks “it’s a good idea to pump the brakes … and for us to work together as a community.”

Bayliss said he’s “passionate” about the use and capabilities of medical marijuana, and recognizes there’s still a “a lot of stigma and dogma attached to it.”

“How does South Portland move forward? Do we all want to work together, (or) do we want to say, what do we want it to look like, or do we not want it here at all? That’s going to be helpful to me,” Bayliss said. “I hope there’s a collective spirit of cooperation and not obstruction.” 

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.