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TOPSHAM — How marijuana businesses are regulated and where sales and production are allowed will likely go to voters at Town Meeting on May 15.
The Board of Selectmen on Thursday, April 11, is expected to adopt the measures for inclusion on next month’s warrant.
The marijuana business licensing and land use rules, hammered out by a town-appointed working group, were in part inspired by the results of three non-binding referendum questions in November 2018.
Voters were asked if they wanted to allow medical marijuana to be sold in a retail venue, which passed 3,078 to 2,060. The question of whether to allow marijuana to be commercially grown passed more narrowly, 2,623 to 2,485.
But a question about whether to permit recreational-use marijuana to be sold to adults in retail settings failed, 2,631 to 2,485. As a result, such operations are not proposed to be allowed in town, Town Planner Rod Melanson said in an interview April 3.
Town Meeting in May 2018 voted against a ban on retail marijuana establishments. Towns are allowed by state law to prohibit retail establishments, but not medical marijuana dispensaries.
The Board of Selectmen would issue a maximum of two licenses for registered caregiver (medical marijuana) retail stores.
“There will only be two stores licensed in the town, total,” Melanson said.
Town-approved marijuana businesses in operation before Dec. 13, 2018 – the date medical marijuana law LD 1539 went into effect – would have a review priority, and they would be included in the maximum.
That rule would apply to High Brow, a retail operation that sells handmade glass pipes and opened at Topsham Fair Mall in 2017. The business has, as an accessory use, a medical marijuana caregiver operation for up to five clients; such clinics are allowed by state statute, Town Manager Rich Roedner has said.
Caregivers were unregulated by towns and could not be regulated prior to LD 1539’s passage, Melanson noted. Existing and potential caregivers alike would have to register with the town clerk’s office.
No marijuana sales, product manufacturing, or testing would be allowed in a residential structure, zone, or use. Signs identifying registered caregiver services would be prohibited in that way, too.
Two maximum licenses would be available for each of four tiers of marijuana cultivation facilities, ranging in plant canopy size from less than 500 square feet to more than 20,000. Up to four licenses would be issued for nurseries with canopies no larger than 1,000 square feet, and a maximum of six each would be allowed for marijuana products manufacturing facilities and marijuana testing facilities.
Those numbers are still being discussed, Melanson said.
“People seem to feel comfortable that a manufacturing facility is not a huge threat, so allowing more of those is OK,” he noted. “The retail aspect was the big baby step.”
Licenses would be subject to annual review. “Assuming that they are compliant with their license every year, then they stay in business,” Melanson said. “If they become non-compliant, then the Select Board probably would not renew their license.”
A marijuana business would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school or another marijuana business. A caregiver retail store would have to be at least 200 feet from a residence.
Topsham’s land use code would be amended by Town Meeting vote to stipulate where marijuana operations are allowed.
Registered caregiver retail stores, and marijuana cultivation, product manufacturing, and product testing facilities would all be permitted in the Commercial Corridor, Commercial Corridor 196, and Mixed Use Commercial zones. All but caregiver stores would be allowed in the Business Park zone.
All four operations would also be allowed in the Rural Commercial Use zone, although caregiver retail stores would be authorized only in the Route 196 RCU corridor, and not the Route 201 (Main Street) section of RCU, Melanson noted.
The working group chose commercial zones since retail and manufacturing uses are permitted there, they are separate from schools and neighborhoods, and they abut or are adjacent to highway and state route corridors, the planner said.
A cap on how many licenses are allowed would limit the use’s proliferation, and operating requirements such as performance standards and site restrictions will restrict the operations’ appearances, size and location, Melanson added.