South Portland to discuss marijuana rules as ban expires

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A local moratorium on retail marijuana will expire Saturday, May 20, after the City Council failed to extend the ban.

The development does not mean retailers and club owners can begin setting up shop, however, because the state has banned sales of marijuana until at least Feb. 1, 2018.

The council needed five votes to extend a zoning moratorium on retailers and social clubs at its Monday, May 15, meeting. Four votes were needed to extend a temporary licensing ban.

Both ordinances only received four votes in favor of extension, from Mayor Patti Smith and Councilors Linda Cohen, Maxine Beecher and Susan Henderson. Councilors Claude Morgan, Eben Rose and Brad Fox were opposed.

Councilors will now hold a workshop on the local regulation of marijuana on May 22, when they are expected to discuss zoning and licensing.  

A proposal to continue the local bans passed a first reading 4-1 on May 1, with only Morgan voting against the moratorium. Rose and Fox were absent.

The council initially passed the two ordinances on Dec. 19, 2016, after voters approved legalization of the drug in a statewide referendum last November.

The zoning ordinances, which were enacted before the state moratorium became effective Jan. 27, placed a temporary ban on permitting and developing retail establishments and social clubs, and prohibited the businesses from being licensed.

Smith, who voted for the continuing the moratorium, cautioned there is “risk in rushing something like this. … I’m more conservative. I want to make sure the staff has all the tools they need.”

Smith also pointed out the lack of a licensing fee structure.

Cohen said she supported the voters’ decision, but also said, “I do support the moratorium. I think it is the responsible thing to do.”

Even though the moratorium would have been in place six more months, Cohen said she would like to see council work at a faster pace.

Morgan did not support the moratorium during either vote, and said Monday night, “We are already working in the shadow of a big moratorium in Augusta.”

He said the city should have been preparing for marijuana, since there were “two votes over two years.”

He also said when making future decisions on zoning and licensing, a good starting point is to look at liquor and where it is sold.

Rose pointed out the city can’t grant licensing “until the state has their act together.”

“The only thing this does is send a message that we are not open for business,” he said, in explaining his opposition to the extensions.

Current law state law allows adults 21 years and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana that can be consumed or smoked in non-public places, such as private homes.

Adults over 21 can grow up to six flowering mature marijuana plants and 12 nonflowering, immature plants. The plants can only be grown where they are not visible to the public right of way, and reasonable precautions must be taken to make them inaccessible to minors under 21. The plants must be properly tagged.

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

Edited May 18, 2017, to reflect that the licensing moratorium was extended.