Review pending for Ellsworth marijuana dispensaries

Posted Dec. 03, 2010, at 9:20 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:55 a.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Proposed regulations to govern medical marijuana dispensaries in the city will go to the City Council later this month with a divided recommendation from the city’s planning board.

In a 3-2 vote, the board approved the proposed revisions to Ellsworth’s land use and licensing regulations that establish a medical marijuana dispensary as an allowed use. Although the board has jurisdiction over only the land use regulations, the proposed regulations have been presented as a package.

The two sections of proposed regulations, for land use and for licensing, reflect changes that grew out of a meeting between the planning board and the City Council last month.

One issue that drew a lot of discussion at that session was a section in the initially proposed ordinance that regulated what the dispensary could include on a sign at the facility. The proposed language would have required that any reference to marijuana include the word “medical” and would have prohibited any smoke or images of a cigarette on the sign.

City Attorney John Hamer cautioned city officials that such restrictions were an attempt to regulate speech and would open the city to lawsuits over free speech violations.

According to City Planner Michelle Gagnon, that section has been removed from the ordinance. The dispensary, however, will have to comply with the city’s existing sign ordinance, which regulates signs for all businesses.

Based on discussion at the earlier session, the proposed regulations also have been changed to allow a dispensary to provide home delivery of marijuana. The initial proposal prohibited home delivery because some residents and city officials raised concerns about the potential for crime and abuses of the service. Others, however, who note that there is only one medical marijuana dispensary approved for most of Hancock and Washington counties, were concerned that it might be a burden for patients to travel long distances to obtain doses of medical marijuana.

Gagnon noted that the proposed regulation requires a security plan for the facility itself and for the home delivery service. That plan must be approved by the city’s police chief.

She also noted that references to home delivery have been moved from the land use section of the ordinance to the licensing section.

“Home delivery is an allowed use, but we’ve moved it from land use and it’s now under licensing,” she said. “That way, they are required to come back to the council every year. If there is a problem, the council can deal with it at that time.”

The proposed regulations would impose an annual $500 licensing fee for a dispensary.

The ordinance designates the city’s Commercial Light Industrial and Industrial 1 zones as areas where such a dispensary will be allowed. Those zones include sections of the Bucksport Road (Routes 1 and 3), the Bangor Road (Route 1A) and Route 1 beyond the Triangle. The ordinance also limits to one the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city and requires that all operations be located at one physical location in the city.

City councilors will consider the ordinance changes at their Dec. 13 meeting. If the council approves the proposed regulations, they will become effective immediately. At that session, councilors also will consider lifting the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries that has been in place since last January.

Maine Organic Therapy, the nonprofit company the state has approved to operate a dispensary in the district, has indicated it plans to develop a dispensary in Ellsworth.

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