BANGOR, Maine — After debating a recommended 90-day moratorium on marijuana dispensaries, city councilors this week voted to double it to 180 days, which would give Bangor until October to amend any land development ordinances.
The 5-4 vote at Monday’s regular council meeting reflected a sharp divide among councilors about how to deal with applications for medical marijuana dispensaries.
“There was some concern that 180 days would put it too close to an election and we would have, potentially, new councilors having to decide this issue,” council Chair Richard Stone said. “My sense was that we won’t need the full 180 days, but I’d rather have it and not need the full time than to try [to] extend it.”
Joining Stone in support of the six-month ban were Councilors David Nealley, Rick Bronson, Hal Wheeler and Geoff Gratwick.
Earlier this month, members of the council’s infrastructure committee discussed at length the issue of marijuana dispensaries, which are now allowed under state law. However, Bangor or any other community cannot approve any applications until the state sorts out the final provisions of the Maine Medical Marijuana Act amendment approved by voters last November. That is not expected to happen until July 1.
As it stands, the state law allows patients to cultivate marijuana on their own. Initially, it will allow eight dispensaries across the state and only one in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties combined. Also, dispensaries may not be located within 500 feet of a school.
Many other communities have passed moratoriums in recent weeks, and Stone, who pushed hard for Bangor’s moratorium, fears that Bangor will be the de facto location for a dispensary simply because of its status as a service center. Stone equated the issue to methadone clinics, of which there are three in Bangor and none any-where else in the region.
Bangor cannot, however, impose an outright ban on marijuana dispensaries. Instead, the city can adopt what the state considers reasonable restrictions about where they could be located. Assistant city solicitor Paul Nicklas has been drafting an amendment to Bangor’s land development code to address dispensaries.
At a meeting last month, Police Chief Ron Gastia suggested that the city enforce stricter security requirements to ensure public safety. When asked Tuesday what those increased security measures, such as video surveillance and alarms, would cost the Police Department, Gastia suggested that it should be the applicant’s responsibility.
One potential applicant, local business owner Richard Hatch, has attended several city meetings and is disappointed with the council’s view on the issue.