CALAIS, Maine — City councilors approved a recommendation from the Public Safety Committee last week to enact a moratorium on siting marijuana distribution dispensaries in the city.
“I think it is a wonderful idea to take some time and study this,” committee Chairman Joseph Cassidy said. “I also expect that the state will have some answers in six to 12 months.”
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 for their own use.
Last fall, a referendum was endorsed by nearly 60 percent of Maine voters and expands the original law to allow medical marijuana patients or their caregivers to buy marijuana legally from government-sanctioned dispensaries.
But many questions remain about how such dispensaries would work, and Cassidy said that even though there are no dispensary proposals before the city of Calais, the council wants to be prepared.
“It is better to be proactive,” Cassidy said.
Since the referendum vote, Gov. John Baldacci has created a 14-member task force charged with clarifying the details of a distribution system.
Marijuana dispensaries have been approved in New Mexico, Rhode Island, California, Colorado and Washington.
In Maine, a large number of communities, such as Brewer, Houlton, Ellsworth, Southwest Harbor, Trenton, South Portland, Gorham, Topsham, Newport and Auburn, have either enacted moratoriums or proposed them.
Calais’ committee was warned by lawyer David Fletcher that it could not vote for an outright ban of such dispensaries because they are allowed by state law, even though the details of dispensary regulations still are being worked out.
“But you can enact a moratorium to give you some time to look at appropriate zoning locations,” Fletcher said. “To be valid, the moratorium should include appointing a committee to study the issue.”
Fletcher said if the study group does not have enough information in six months, the moratorium could be extended for an additional six months.
A public hearing on the moratorium proposal has been set for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 8, at the regular council meeting in City Hall.