2016-12-29 / Neighbors

Municipalities begin discussions of marijuana

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD/SACO/OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Area municipalities have reached varying stages of action on regulating medical and commercial marijuana activity. Biddeford has ordered moratoria on medical and commercial marijuana activity, and Saco and Old Orchard Beach staff have discussed the matter with their respective councils without any action.

“I’m expecting that we will see here in Old Orchard Beach some interest, on the part of business people, in pursuing some of the potential business opportunities that are related (to commercial marijuana),” Old Orchard Beach Town Manager Larry Mead told the town council at its Dec. 20 meeting.

Mead described the recent state law approved by referendum in November, Question 1.

“There’s a lot of facets to this law,” Mead said. “It allows for possession of limited quantities of marijuana, it allows for the use of marijuana on private property, it allows for limited growing of marijuana plants by individuals for their private personal use on their property, or with permission of other property owners. It doesn’t permit smoking or use of marijuana products in public spaces, and it doesn’t permit the use of marijuana products by people under 21. It does allow for retail sale at social clubs, which would be places where people can go and, in a regulated, licensed location, smoke or use marijuana, and it allows for commercial cultivation.

“All of those commercial activities are subject to regulation by the state, and the law allows municipalities to regulate, or even ban these commercial and retail uses, if they so choose.”

The portions of the state law that regulate the commercial aspects of marijuana legalization don’t come into effect for nine months, Mead said.

“Because of that, going forward at this point, the town of Old Orchard Beach will not accept any applications for a business license or for a permit of any kind for the operation of a commercial venture related to recreational marijuana use,” Mead said, “because such a venture at this time cannot be legally operated pending the adoption by the state of rules and regulations for licensing of such operations.

“However, at some point in the months ahead, the town council is going to have to wrestle with how the town is going to approach these uses, and decide whether you want to regulate them, in terms of where or how they can take place, or whether you want to ban them from taking place.”

With regard to regulation of medical marijuana activity in Old Orchard Beach, in 2014 the town ordered a 60-day moratorium following a proposed development of a growing facility by resident Pierre Bouthiller. In 2015 Old Orchard Beach enacted an ordinance limiting medical marijuana production facilities to its General Business District 1 and industrial districts. After the ordinance Bouthiller did not pursue any medical marijuana activity in the town, according to Assistant Town Manager Louise Reid. Reid said she doesn’t know of any other medical marijuana activity in the town.

In Saco, the city is “following current state and federal laws regarding recreational marijuana,” according to City Administrator Kevin Sutherland.

“State regulations around recreational marijuana shops, clubs and growing facilities are several months from being released,” Sutherland wrote in an email. “Based on conversations I’ve had with Maine Municipal Association, we should have more information/direction in the coming months. If, at that time, they advise us to establish a moratorium, I will work with council to do so.”

As the Courier reported in its Sept. 24, 2015 issue, Saco does not regulate medical marijuana production other than to limit it, with other businesses, to commercial and industrial zones.

Biddeford has ordered moratoria for both medical and retail marijuana activity. At its Dec. 20, meeting, the Biddeford city council voted to extend its moratorium on medical marijuana to Mar. 20.

Biddeford City Manager Jim Bennett told the council that some of the idea of extending the moratorium was to coordinate the regulation of medical and retail marijuana activity.

“There was some concern that you may be doing this with the right hand and the left hand would be doing something totally different,” Bennett said, “and, until we know what the state’s (going to) do, the sense was that you wanted to look at it holistically.”

At the same time, that moratorium was amended to not apply to the city’s I-1 zone, on request of local businessman Paul Gelardi. As Biddeford Economic Development Director Dan Stevenson reported at the meeting, Gelardi has been pursuing the business of extracting oils from marijuana plants.

“An extended moratorium would directly affect a relatively large investment of $600,000 in extraction industry, which he’d like to continue at 5 Drapeau St. where there’s an existing operation happening now,” Stevenson said. “His simple request is that if you so choose to exempt it form the I-1, that’s his request.”

Gelardi represents Hightech Extracts, according to an email he sent to the council, which uses a technology called “SuperCritical Fluid Extraction” to extract oils and compounds from various plant materials, including marijuana.

Councilor-at-large Marc Lessard spoke against the amendment.

“It’s really not being done on what’s the best use for the ‘I’ (industrial) zoning, it’s really to help with an investment that’s been made, and for that reason I can’t support it,” Lessard said.

The amendment passed 6-3 with Councilors Lessard, Stephen St. Cyr, and John McCurry opposing. According to Stevenson, Gelardi’s facility is nonconforming under the zoning ordinance due to an earlier codification error and it can continue to operate, but cannot expand. At the council’s next meeting the council will consider whether to give the facility relief from the requirements of the zoning ordinance such that it can expand.

Although the moratorium order, as amended, ultimately passed 5-4 with Councilors Laura Seaver, Bob Mills, Robert Quattrone, and Michael Swanton opposing, that was after a motion to reconsider. The first vote was 6-3 with Lessard, Seaver, and Swanton opposing. However, Ward 4 Councilor Quattrone told the council that he had been confused and accidentally voted in favor, and that he wanted to change his vote to oppose. At the time of the final vote, Ward 5 Councilor Mills also voted to oppose, after apparently not voting either way at first. Lessard also switched his vote from opposing the moratorium to favoring it.

Lessard told the Courier that his initial dissent on the vote was a symbolic vote because he disagreed with the amendment to except the I-1 zone. He said that the priority for him was that the moratorium pass, but the initial vote count allowed him to make a symbolic vote to dissent. When the vote count changed after the reconsideration, he said, he voted in favor to assure that it would ultimately pass.

Along with Biddeford’s extension of the medical marijuana moratorium, the council also ordered a moratorium on retail marijuana activity. That moratorium lasts for 180 days and applies to “retail marijuana social clubs and retail marijuana establishments, including retail marijuana stores, retail marijuana cultivation facilities, retail marijuana products manufacturing facilities and retail marijuana testing facilities,” according to the order.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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