HOULTON, Maine — Town councilors stood firmly behind a 180-day moratorium on the location or licensing of any medical marijuana dispensaries within the town Monday evening, joining other communities across the state that are awaiting final decisions on a recently passed law that allows the dispensaries.
Councilors voted unanimously in favor of the moratorium, with Councilor Fred Grant absent.
Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1999. The law allows people suffering from certain medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to use marijuana, to possess up to 2½ ounces of the drug and to grow up to six plants.
The new law, which nearly 60 percent of Maine voters approved, allows qualified individuals to set up medical marijuana dispensaries that would be licensed by the state.
The ballot initiative also expands the list of ailments for which doctors could recommend medical marijuana.
Since the law was passed, some people have expressed fear that medical marijuana clinics will pop up across the state, along with other concerns. A 14-member task force appointed by Gov. John Baldacci met to address the matter.
Late last month, the task force recommended closing loopholes that could allow abuse of the drug or weaken law enforcement, creating a board of medical professionals to recommend additional medical conditions that could be covered by the law, and to ensure the program is closely monitored so changes can be made. The group also agreed not to predetermine the number and location of dispensaries.
The recommendations have been delivered to Baldacci. The suggestion will be reviewed so legislation can be proposed.
Houlton Town Manager Douglas Hazlett said he felt that the six-month moratorium was “appropriate.” He noted that the town is looking to the state for guidelines regarding how communities can develop local ordinances to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I think that it is appropriate that we do this at this time,” Hazlett said Monday evening.
Several Maine towns already have taken similar steps.
Bangor officials are working to incorporate marijuana dispensaries into the city’s zoning regulations. Last week, Newport officials enacted a 40-day moratorium on dispensaries until local ordinances could be adjusted to ensure they are located where the town wants them.
Brewer and Ellsworth also have enacted moratoriums.