Municipalities consider marijuana licensing fees

Posted Oct. 15, 2010, at 7:08 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Communities grappling to craft rules for medical marijuana clinics and cultivation facilities also are wrestling with the question of whether to charge a local licensing fee.

Some, like Bangor, have decided not to charge any additional fees, while others, such as nearby Hermon, are considering a $10,000 initial fee and $5,000 annual renewal fees.

“Only time will tell if that’s sufficient or excessive,” Ron Harriman, Hermon’s economic development consultant, said Friday. “But we think it was a fair place to start.”

Brewer leaders say $500 should be a sufficient annual fee for either a pot growing facility or a dispensary. Officials in Ellsworth, which learned earlier this month that it more than likely will host a dispensary that serves both Washington and Hancock counties, are discussing the matter.

Residents in Frenchville learned recently that their community may host a clinic to serve Aroostook County, but the town has no established rules regarding marijuana clinics or cultivation centers.

Maine voters first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1999, and in November 2009 resoundingly supported expanding the law to include more medical conditions and the creation of nonprofit, government-sanctioned clinics and marijuana cultivation centers.

Northeast Patients Group, a recently formed corporation with ties to California-based Berkeley Patients Group, gained approval from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in July to run four of the state’s eight clinics in or around Augusta, Bangor, Portland and Thomaston.

Northeast Patients Group has been talking with Hermon town leaders for months about a developing a marijuana cultivation facility in a Dysart’s warehouse near the interstate, Hermon Town Manager Clinton Deschene said Friday.

With that in mind, the town enacted a moratorium so medical marijuana cultivation guidelines could be crafted, including the proposed fees and other rules. The Hermon subcommittee will present its proposals to the Town Council on Nov. 4.

The committee is proposing “a $10,000 initial application fee and a $5,000 renewal” for cultivation facilities, Deschene said.

The committee focused on growing facilities and will attack dispensary rules next, said Harriman, who sat on the panel.

“This is just the recommendation of the committee,” he said. “It could very well change at the council meeting.”

Five states in the U.S. allow medical marijuana dispensaries, and Harriman’s research showed a variety of fees, including one community in California with annual fees of up to $210,000, he said.

Northeast Patients Group is looking to open a dispensary in the Bangor area and has talked to officials in Bangor and Brewer.

Bangor has no annual fees for marijuana or methadone clinics, according to Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas. They are subject to the same fees as any other business, he said.

Brewer, which has a $50 permit fee for methadone clinics, has held the first reading of proposed rules regarding medical marijuana clinics and growing facilities, and is considering a $500 annual fee. City councilors will vote on the land use amendments at their November meeting.

Ellsworth heard at the beginning of October that Portland-based Primary Organic Therapy Inc., or POT, which has been selected to serve Hancock and Washington counties, changed its application and now is proposing a location in town, said Ellsworth City Planner Michelle Gagnon.

City leaders enacted a moratorium on dispensaries months ago to allow local planners time to develop land use amendments, which will be presented next month and likely will go to the City Council for adoption in December, she said. The Ellsworth moratorium expires in January.

The city’s zoning update committee met Friday morning and is considering an annual fee, but what that figure will be has not been determined, Gagnon said.

“I don’t have a number to give you,” she said.

The city does not have a permit fee for methadone clinics, and the highest annual permit fee in Ellsworth is now the $200 junkyard fee, Gagnon said.

Frenchville, which recently learned that the Aroostook County clinic originally planned for Fort Kent may end up in town, has no rules on the books for medical marijuana facilities and is relying on the state’s regulations, Town Manager Joe Levesque said Friday.

Frenchville will hold a public information meeting next week to introduce officials from Safe Alternatives, the Fort Kent company authorized by the state to serve The County, to residents in town, he said.

“They will be here to explain their operations,” Levesque said.

DHHS selected the nonprofit organizations that will run the medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers and its Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services will inspect and register each, said John Thiele, program manager for the agency’s Maine Use of Medical Marijuana Program.

“They can’t actually do anything, they can’t start their cultivation until we issue a certificate of registration,” which requires a state inspection, he said. “The only facility that I have inspected is Safe Alternative, which is in District 8 in Aroostook County.”

Each dispensary or growing center must pay an annual state permit fee of $15,000, Thiele said.

Most of them, “I would say, would like to open within the next four months,” he said.

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