BREWER, Maine — After hearing from Police Chief Perry Antone, City Planner Linda Johns, and a Bangor smoke shop owner, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously enacted a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana clinics opening within city limits.
“It’s not about the dispensing, but how they are going to operate,” Antone said. “What we’re looking for is guidance from the state. There are no guidelines.”
Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1999. That law allows people suffering from certain medical ailments, such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to use marijuana, to possess up to 2.5 ounces of the drug and to grow up to six plants.
The newly passed referendum, which was endorsed by nearly 60 percent of Maine voters in November, expands that law to allow medical marijuana patients or their caregivers to legally buy marijuana from government-sanctioned dispensaries.
Questions Antone wants answered before a clinic opens in Brewer include: Who is going to be licensed to manage these facilities? What is the process behind that? Who is responsible for reviewing licenses and violations? What are the rules for transporting marijuana? How is it going to be packaged? And where should clinics be located?
“I thought it would be best that until we have a clear idea, or guidelines … we recommend a moratorium be in place so it’s done right,” the police chief told councilors at a special emergency meeting held at City Hall Tuesday to discuss the issue.
There are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed before a medical marijuana clinic is allowed to open, Johns said.
“The city would like to be proactive not reactive,” she said. “However, the state has not yet decided on rules.”
Gov. John Baldacci has created a 14-member task force charged with recommending how to implement the new pharmaceutical distribution system. The panel is working on recommended rules, which will be presented to the Legislature when it convenes next month. Lawmakers will have 45 days to amend the law.
By enacting a moratorium, city staffers will have time to review the state’s new rules and compare them to local land use rules, to see if adjustments need to be made, Johns said.
Christopher Ruhlin, director of Bangor-based Maine Patient’s Group, and owner of Herbal Tea and Tobacco in downtown Bangor, spoke in support of working together to establish rules everyone can live with.
“We think a moratorium is not necessarily a bad idea,” he said. “We would like to be a resource for you. We have the answers to a lot of these questions.”
Ruhlin said after the meeting that the Maine Patient’s Group, is a collective of “patients for patients.” He said, “It’s an enormous amount of responsibility” when someone is counting on you to provide a drug that will help them live.
“We can legally dispense 2.5 ounces every two weeks,” he said, adding that he has provided marijuana to patients with medical needs for six or seven years.
“That’s a tricky thing to admit to,” Ruhlin said.
City Councilor Larry Doughty said he’s worried about the clinics and where they might open.
“I think it is scary that we would have these dispensaries in Brewer,” he said. “We have drunk drivers and I don’t know what we’re going to do if we have pot smokers” driving around.
It is illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of intoxicants, and that includes marijuana, Ruhlin said in response to Doughty’s question.
Doughty also wanted to know if the city’s methadone clinic restrictions could be applied to the marijuana clinics.
City Solicitor Joel Dearborn said, “We’re starting down the same road,” but added that there are federal rules that need to be considered before any local rules can be put in place to govern marijuana distribution centers.
The moratorium “gives us time to step back and review the city’s charter and comprehensive plan, [and] land use code of the city to come up with a plan,” Dearborn said.
Councilors agreed fully and endorsed the 180-day ban effective immediately. Councilor Jerry Goss said the time will allow city staff to come up with a plan that works for patients, residents and law enforcement.