BANGOR, Maine — A group with California roots that recently was awarded the license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties would like to locate the facility in Bangor, the region’s service center.
The only question is where.
Members of the City Council on Monday heard from representatives of Northeast Patients Group — which will operate four dispensaries across the state — as councilors wrested with proposed ordinance changes that would accommodate such facilities.
Bangor has a six-month moratorium on marijuana dispensaries that is set to expire in October, but the council is close to enacting changes that would replace that temporary ban.
Among the changes considered are amending the city’s land development code to allow dispensaries or cultivation facilities in some zones, provided there is a reasonable buffer from schools, parks and other areas children frequent. The current proposed buffer is 1,000 feet, similar to restrictions placed on methadone clinics. Other provisions include restricting hours of operation and enforcing certain security measures.
Becky DeKeuster, CEO of Northeast Patients Group, said Bangor is at the top of a list of sites in the area, but the company will wait until the municipal ordinances are straightened out.
“There is no sense finding a place only to find out it doesn’t fall within the guidelines,” she said Monday outside the City Council chambers.
Councilors, who are set to vote on the proposed ordinance changes in early September, remained somewhat wary of medical marijuana dispensaries. Some wondered why day care facilities or churches couldn’t be added to the list of spots where a buffer would be appropriate. Others remained skeptical that Northeast Patients Group had adequate security measures in place.
DeKeuster said she understood the concerns, but she cautioned the council not to be too prohibitive given the great demand in the area among patients seeking prescription cannabis, which is used to treat a variety of illnesses.
“Don’t zone this use out of existence,” she said.
Last month, Northeast Patients announced that it likely would site its marijuana cultivation facility in nearby Hermon, although that town is still sorting out the details. Either way, DeKeuster said Bangor makes the most sense for the dispensary, and she predicted that between 75 and 100 patients could be served in the first year alone.
Last November, Maine voters approved a system of regulated marijuana dispensaries for patients with specific medical conditions. State officials have been sorting out the details since but determined earlier this year they would permit one such facility in each of Maine’s eight public health districts.
Applicants were judged on a number of criteria, including their nonprofit mission and business plans, their experience in nonprofit management, their proposed security systems and their patient education plans.
Northeast Patients Group scored well in all categories and ultimately was selected to establish facilities in Portland, Thomaston and the Augusta area, in addition to Bangor.
DeKeuster, who worked at a dispensary in California for seven years, said Maine has taken the best aspects from medical marijuana dispensaries that have been successful in other states.
“Maine is well on its way to doing this right,” she said.