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SOUTH PORTLAND — Despite some concerns from city councilors and Planning Board members, new marijuana businesses are moving closer to opening in the city.
The Planning Board on Wednesday approved site plans from two businesses, including a retail shop in Knightville, while the City Council OK’d licenses for a pair of medical marijuana operations.
“Do I think this store is the best use of this property for South Portland? Not at all,” Planning Board Chair Kevin Carr said May 8 about the proposal from Peter Ingram of Cannabis Exchange LLC for a retail store at 27 Ocean St. “But at the end of the day, Darwin will win out, and the market will support what the market will support.”
The board also approved a site plan for applicant 200 Gorham Road Inc., which intends to convert an existing eye care office into a medical marijuana shop.
Two nights earlier, Mayor Claude Morgan suggested councilors put aside their personal opinions on marijuana use and approve licenses for the proposed medical marijuana establishments.
His suggestion May 6 to “honor the will of the people” came after one resident spoke out against recreational use and Police Chief Edward Googins declined to sign off on a license for one medical marijuana establishment.
At least half of the other city councilors expressed concerns about the impact of medical and retail marijuana shops.
But despite their personal concerns, councilors voted 6-1, with Councilor Deqa Dhalac opposed, to grant a medical marijuana license to Beach Boys Cannabis Co. at 818 Main St., next door to a renovated Dunkin’ Donuts.
They also unanimously granted a license for medical marijuana cultivation to Matthew Bayliss of Terrapin Horticultural Co., at 9 Industry Road.
In a memo, Googins told councilors “the sale and distribution of pot remains illegal under federal law” and therefore would not receive his approval.
But state and local laws have legalized medical and retail sales, and regardless of the chief’s position, the council has full authority on final approval.
Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser told councilors the Planning Board accepts applications for both medical and adult use of recreational marijuana.
According to City Planner Justin Barker, there have been eight applicants for marijuana establishments in the city: two retail and six medical. While businesses must not be within 300 feet of each other, there is no cap on how many can exist.
“I have a problem with marijuana coming to the West End,” Dhalac, who lives in on Red Oak Drive, said. “I don’t mind if someone is getting healthier by using medical marijuana, but I want to know who is regulating that. It’s illegal federally, we should not have to bring it into the city.”
Councilor Maxine Beecher said she is nervous about marijuana shops being “a primary business establishment for the city,” and Councilor April Caricchio echoed similar concerns.
“What’s going to happen when people think this is going to turn into recreational. That’s where I’ll become a speed bump,” she said. “Decriminalizing marijuana has some positives. I’m willing to go own this road, but not much further.”
Morgan, however, noted that for two years, very few people stood in front of the council and objected to the process of legalizing marijuana. He said the city even over-advertised the process to make sure residents knew it would be on the agenda. He urged councilors to consider that when making future decisions on marijuana businesses in the city.
“We knew this was coming,” Morgan said. “Change is here but we need to embrace. We need to work with the wheels of commerce and not be ground up by them.”
At the Planning Board, discussion centered largely around parking concerns in Knightville since the 2016 opening of Foulmouthed Brewing Co., which is directly across A Street from the Cannabis Exchange location.
“I’m not against the shop itself,” A Street resident Troy Chase told the board. “It’s the parking and the one-way part of A Street that I’m very concerned about. The road is just too small and cannot handle that kind of traffic.”
Scott Irving, also a resident of A Street, also said the one-way traffic between Waterman Drive and Ocean Street, and availability of parking, pose problems.
“I’m not sure where the traffic study claims to come up with plenty of spaces,” he said. “I favor (marijuana) legalization and don’t have a problem with this shop. It just seems like there may be a better neighborhood for it.”
With the Planning Board approvals in hand, the 200 Gorham Road proposal now goes to the City Council for license consideration, according to Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny. Cannibis Exchange must wait for the state to adopt retail marijuana rules before it requests a license from the council.
“Adult use shops can’t issue their license until they get a provisional state license,” Reny said. “So even if they tried to get a local license, there are still stuck waiting because there is currently no way to process their requests.”
The state Office of Marijuana Policy on April 22 released draft adult-use marijuana rules and regulations for recreational marijuana. OMP will create a final draft in preparation for a public hearing May 23.
If the Legislature approves the rules before summer recess, the state can start accepting license applications later this year.
Peter Ingram of Maine Cannabis Exchange LLC is proposing to convert space in this building at 27 Ocean St., South Portland, into a retail marijuana shop.
Much is still unknown about how a proposed retail marijuana store on Ocean Street in South Portland, marked here in blue, could impact parking and traffic flow in Knightville.