Topsham could put freeze on medical marijuana shops

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TOPSHAM — The town may enact a moratorium on new medical marijuana providers.

Given interest town staff has heard about new medical marijuana storefronts being opened, a moratorium on such establishments may soon be enacted in order to allow the town time to regulate them.

The Board of Selectmen on Oct. 19 unanimously approved holding a special Town Meeting to vote on a moratorium ordinance. A date has yet to be set, but Town Manager Rich Roedner on Oct. 20 said it could be in early December.

If approved, the six-month moratorium would be retroactive to Oct. 19.

A freeze on retail marijuana sales – which followed the narrow passage last November of a statewide referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product – was approved at Town Meeting in May, and is expected to be extended next month.

High Brow, a retail operation that sells handmade glass pipes, recently opened at Topsham Fair Mall. The business has, as an accessory use, a medical marijuana caregiver operation for up to five clients; such clinics are allowed by state statute, Roedner said.

The town has also been contacted by other medical marijuana providers about opening storefronts, operated by caregivers who would operate out of those locations, Roedner said.

Town officials are concerned that once the state has established its retail marijuana legislation, these medical marijuana operations may be able to expand to retail operations, for which there are no town regulations.

The moratorium on medical marijuana providers would give the town time to regulate such enterprises.

“The thought is to get in front of facilities that appear to be gearing up for full commercial retail, so that we can regulate them as we choose, not being caught by their decisions at a later date,” Roedner said.

The moratorium would not apply to High Brow, since its caregiver facility predates the potential freeze, the manager said.

Topsham has modeled its moratorium language after a similar measure that was recently approved in Brunswick, Roedner said in an Oct. 11 memo to the Board of Selectmen. Local governments cannot generally regulate clinics based on state statute, he said, but the town has been informed that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has allowed local regulation through zoning.

The town in that capacity could govern items such as locations and hours of operations in the storefront business model, Roedner noted.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.