Topsham moves closer to moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

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TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously March 4 to send draft language for a medical marijuana dispensary moratorium to the Planning Board for review.

The Planning Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the matter April 6, after which it will send the language back to the Board of Selectmen to be placed on the May 19 Town Meeting warrant.

The language presented by Town Planner Rich Roedner notes that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is in the process of drafting rules to implement the Maine Medical Marijuana Act. The Legislature, meanwhile, is considering amendments to the law, approved by voters last November, that allows medical marijuana dispensaries to be developed in all Maine communities.

However, the work of DHHS and the Legislature will not be complete in time for Topsham to adopt regulations that comply with state statutes and rules before the act goes into effect.

The moratorium proposal also notes that the act and the draft rules which implement it provide no limits on the location or number of dispensaries within any community, and that a potential conflict exists between the dispensaries and “certain adjacent or nearby uses creating the potential for serious public harm.”

If adopted at Town Meeting, the moratorium would run for 180 days beginning May 19. The Board of Selectmen may extend the moratorium, but no extension can run more than 180 days, and a public hearing for that extension would be required. The board can also end a moratorium if, following a public hearing, it determines the moratorium is no longer necessary.

“I’m all for your recommendation, 100 percent,” Selectman Sandra Consolini told Roedner.

While he said he was not “a huge fan” of moratoriums, Selectman Don Russell offered his support, too.

The planner also presented a letter expressing concern about the law for the Board of Selectmen to send to the legislative delegation and the Maine Municipal Association’s Legislative Policy Committee.

Roedner pointed out last month that the task force advising Gov. John Baldacci on implementing the dispensary law had not addressed the law’s confidentiality provisions, which makes it a crime to reveal the location and operation of a dispensary, and who is using it.

“The concern we raise is that local governments will not be in a position to issue permits or licenses, conduct occupancy inspections, ensure public safety through building codes inspections, while maintaining confidentiality,” the draft letter states. “As soon as an application is made for a permit, that information is public. Should a community decide to limit which zones (a) dispensary can locate in, then there has to be some way of enforcing that rule. Operating under the stated confidentiality rules will make that task impossible.”

The letter asks the legislative delegation and MMA committee to work to amend the act and its subsequent implementation rules, “by exempting local governments from the confidentiality requirements as they pertain to nonprofit dispensaries, and the rights of local governments to regulate the same.”

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to send the letter.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

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.