ELLSWORTH, Maine — City councilors on Monday night unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
The move will give city officials time to develop local ordinances that will reflect state rules on the establishment and operation of the dispensaries.
Voters in November approved an expansion of Maine’s medical marijuana law, which was first adopted in 1999. That law allowed people suffering from certain ailments, including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to use marijuana, to possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana and to grow up to six plants.
The measure approved by 60 percent of those voting in November expands the law to allow those patients or their caregivers to buy marijuana legally from state-approved dispensaries.
“We need to hear first what the rules and regulations for these centers will be,” city planner Michelle Gagnon told the councilors. “We’re not ready to deal with this.”
Under current land use regulations, it is possible that someone could apply for a license for a marijuana dispensary which, since there is no reference to such a use in the ordinance, would have to be reviewed under regulations for similar uses, according to Gagnon.
“Potentially, it could go through the process and receive approval,” she said.
The moratorium will prohibit any city board from accepting, reviewing or approving an application for any such use during the 180-day moratorium period.
Councilors asked few questions, and those they asked — Will marijuana be ordered through a doctor’s prescription or be sold in a retail store? Who will monitor quality control? Will there be restrictions on potency? — have no answers yet.
“We have to wait for the Legislature,” said Police Chief John DeLeo.
Although voters approved the expansion of the medical marijuana law, legislators have to enact the actual law to implement the new marijuana distribution systems. Gov. John Baldacci has appointed a 14-member panel, which will make recommendations on rules and regulations to the Legislature.
“We really don’t know what will happen,” DeLeo said. “It may very well be a retail store, or it could be a prescription at a pharmacy.”
Rules and regulations could affect how police enforce existing laws that govern marijuana, he said.
How the city regulates the marijuana dispensaries will depend on the rules and regulations adopted by the Legislature, Gagnon said. As with methadone clinics previously, the city’s land use ordinance will need to be amended to regulate how the medical marijuana dispensaries can be created in the city.
“It’s not that we’re trying to keep something out,” she said. “We understand that some people need this to manage their pain. We’re just not ready to deal with this, and we want to do the right thing.”
The moratorium became effective immediately. It gives city staff six months to develop new local regulations. The moratorium can be extended for an additional six months, if necessary.