BREWER, Maine — City councilors voted Tuesday to extend a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries for another six months, until the end of 2010.
Last December, shortly after 60 percent of Maine voters approved an expansion of state law to create sanctioned dispensaries, Brewer enacted a six-month moratorium in order to examine local ordinances and see whether changes needed to be made.
City Council Chairman Arthur Verow said Tuesday after the council’s unanimous vote that Brewer simply needs more time.
“We’ve had an in-house committee look at some things and we’ve been exploring ordinances in other areas of the country,” he said. “The action today gives us more time to see what the state comes up with.”
Earlier this month, the Legislature approved a bill that authorizes up to eight medical marijuana dispensaries statewide and creates a state-run registry system for patients and caregivers who legally possess the drug. Until the dispensaries are established, Maine’s existing law allows approved patients to grow up to six marijuana plants at a time for their own use or to designate a caregiver to grow the plants for them.
The new legislation does not prohibit municipalities from adopting their own regulations controlling where dispensaries may be located within town boundaries. Several towns throughout Maine already have adopted ordinances or moratoriums on dispensaries in anticipation of the new law.
When the city enacted the first moratorium, Brewer officials had concerns about how the facilities would be licensed, how to deal with the transportation of marijuana and where the clinics could or should be located.
Geoff Herman, director of state and federal relations for the Maine Municipal Association, said that under state law, municipalities are allowed one six-month moratorium with the option for an additional six-month extension. Once Brewer’s extension is up, the city will need to have some ordinance in place in the event that someone submits an application for a dispensary.
While some cities and towns like Brewer have rushed to pass moratoriums, Herman said others are less concerned.
“My impression is that the recently approved changes that were made to the originally adopted law have relieved some concerns,” he said.
Those changes include allowing the state Department of Health and Human Services to adopt rules for the dispensary application and selection process, including setting license fees of up to $15,000 a year. License fees and other fees will allow DHHS to cover the oversight costs of the new system. After the first year under the new law, DHHS will re-evaluate the program to determine whether more dispensaries are needed.
“I’m sure there will be growing pains,” Herman said.