ORONO, Maine — Town councilors began preliminary discussions Monday afternoon about enacting a possible moratorium on marijuana dispensaries, a move that several other communities around the state have made already.
Councilors decided during a community relations committee meeting to forward the moratorium issue to the full council for discussion.
The moratorium would apply retroactively to May 17 and would remain in effect for 180 days.
“This [moratorium] gives the council time to think about the different zoning issues and decide where it would be appropriate under the land use [ordinances] and the comprehensive plan,” said Maria Weinberger, Orono’s assistant town manager. “[Marijuana dispensaries are] really a new animal, and that six months buys you time to toss all the questions around and talk about it.”
Marijuana dispensaries are legal under the Maine Medical Marijuana Act approved by voters last November, but the provisions of the law are not expected to be completed until July.
State law now allows approved patients to grow up to six marijuana plants at a time for their own use, or to designate a caregiver to do so for them. The new law also will allow eight dispensaries, including one for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties combined, and create a state-run registry system for patients or caregivers who may possess marijuana legally.
Dispensaries may not be located within 500 feet of a school.
In an April 21 Bangor Daily News story, Geoff Herman of the Maine Municipal Association said that under state law, municipalities may enact one six-month moratorium with an option for a six-month extension. When the extension is up, municipalities must have an ordinance in place in the event someone submits an applica-tion for a dispensary.
Councilors were unsure where zoning ordinances would allow a marijuana dispensary and how traffic flow downtown might be affected.
“The need for having a moratorium is pretty clear, it seems to me,” council Chairman Geoff Gordon said Monday.
If such a moratorium were enacted, Orono would join nearby municipalities of Bangor and Brewer, which both have 180-day bans on marijuana dispensaries. Municipalities around the state have either started discussions about moratoriums or enacted similar bans.
Councilor Mark Haggerty voted to continue the discussion, but worried the council would be “wasting an inordinate amount of time” on a moratorium if town officials could make changes to the language of the town’s current land-use ordinances, which could then be approved by the Town Council.