BANGOR, Maine — The largest city in eastern and northern Maine — and by most accounts the region’s most likely future home for a medical marijuana dispensary — has waded into the discussion of where such a facility should be sited.
Members of the Bangor City Council’s infrastructure committee on Tuesday had an initial discussion about making amendments to the city’s land development code to accommodate a dispensary. Maine voters last fall passed a referendum expanding the state’s medical marijuana act to allow not-for-profit distribution centers.
Bangor councilors did not make any decision Tuesday, and the matter would go to the full council either way, but some officials voiced strong opposition.
Council Chairman Richard Stone, in particular, suggested that Bangor should consider a six-month moratorium, much like many other municipalities have done across the state. Councilor Pat Blanchette said, only half-joking, that the city should consider a five-year moratorium — something the council doesn’t have the authority to enact.
Instead, Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas presented councilors with a land development code amendment, suggesting that the city allow dispensaries in most zones with certain exceptions. Among them would be keeping them a reasonable distance from schools. Nicklas also pointed out that any state restriction would trump city restrictions and the state is still in the process of sorting out the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Based on a law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this month, Maine will allow eight dispensaries statewide in the initial phase. That means only one to cover all of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.
Geoff Herman with the Maine Municipal Association said it only makes sense that a dispensary would gravitate to Bangor, simply because of its population base and status as a service center.
“I would assume [dispensaries] will open in service centers. Everything like this does,” he said. “Certainly, the land use regulatory infrastructure is higher in cities than in outlying areas.”
Stone seemed to be annoyed that Bangor is the first destination for potentially controversial facilities.
“I don’t want to end up where we did on methadone clinics,” he said, referring to the fact that Bangor now has three active methadone clinics while no other community in Penobscot County has any.
Councilor Hal Wheeler asked Nicklas whether the city has any right to prohibit dispensaries altogether. Nicklas said if Bangor passed such a restrictive ordinance, it almost certainly would be challenged legally. The assistant solicitor also cautioned councilors against relying on a moratorium.
“The point would be to work on things, not to stall,” he said. “We do have some time.”
The state has set a date of July 1 for when it will begin accepting applications for marijuana dispensaries. Bangor cannot entertain any local requests until an applicant has approval from the state.
Local business owner Richard Hatch addressed councilors on Tuesday and shared his experience with medical marijuana as a patient and also as someone with an interest in opening a dispensary.
“They are no different than any other drugstore, which sell highly addictive drugs,” he said. “If you make things too restrictive, it pushes [marijuana distribution] further underground.”
Councilors are scheduled to discuss marijuana dispensaries again at a meeting on Tuesday, May 4.