SOUTH PORTLAND — City Councilors Tuesday informally agreed to have the Planning Board recommend how to regulate medical marijuana and recreational marijuana businesses.
During the past several months, the city has received several inquiries from prospective businesses interested in opening medical marijuana offices and storefronts, City Manager Scott Morelli said. The activity is not allowed under the city’s zoning regulation, which only allows for medical marijuana dispensaries in limited locations.
The Planning Board’s recommendation will come back to the council, and a draft ordinance could be considered in May.
Darrell Gudreo, owner of a medical marijuana storefront in Boothbay Harbor called the Pharmer’s Market, told councilors he would like to lease a space at 200 Gorham Road for a similar operation. The store would sell tobacco products and accessories, as well as ingestible and topical forms of marijuana.
Gudroe would also like to have a consultation room for patients, and said he will seek an ordinance change to operate the business.
Business and tax consultant Tom Mourmouras, who works with about 200 medical marijuana businesses, told councilors there are eight medical marijuana dispensaries in the state and about 3,600 caregivers.
Mourmouras said a storefront allows medical marijuana caregivers, licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services, to meet with patients in a professional and safe setting. Caregivers are allowed to treat no more than five patients at a time.
Although the city has regulations in place, such businesses cannot operate until the state has implemented rules. That leaves a gap where illegal delivery services and unregulated markets could thrive in the absence of a regulated, legal market, Mourmouras said.
Caregiver storefronts would allow the city to gain control over marijuana until the state implements its laws, he said.
“I’m in favor of it, whether Jeff Sessions likes it or not,” Councilor Eben Rose said, refering to the U.S. attorney general’s insistence he will prosecute marijuana cases under federal law.
Rose also urged the public to become aware of the history of the prohibition of marijuana in the 1930s and its racist overtones. “I’m not in that camp,” he said.
In November, the council unanimously approved marijuana zoning and licensing ordinances and set future fees for marijuana businesses. The vote came after Maine residents in 2016 at the polls narrowly approved the recreational use of marijuana in a referendum question.
Current state law allows adults 21 years and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana that can be consumed or smoked in private places.
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, and reasonable precautions must be taken to make them inaccessible to minors under 21. The plants must be properly tagged.
Last year, the council adopted licensing fees based on alcohol licensing fees. The fees are $1,400 for marijuana stores, $600 for marijuana cultivation facilities, and $300 for marijuana manufacturing facilities.
Zoning and licensing ordinances prohibit marijuana social clubs from opening in South Portland.
The licensing ordinance also requires manufacturing facilities to obtain a license from the city.
Resident Bill Duffy, who said he had not planned to speak at the meeting, told councilors medical marijuana was the only treatment he’s found to ease his pain and give him an appetite.
“It’s a boon for those suffering with chronic pain, and big pharma doesn’t want it,” Duffy said.