ELLSWORTH, Maine — City councilors on Monday unanimously approved zoning and licensing regulations that will govern the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
The councilors also voted to repeal the moratorium on such dispensaries that has been in effect for almost a year. The repeal will be effective on Jan. 1, the same day the new regulations become effective.
City planner Michelle Gagnon explained that the dispensary would be an allowed use only in the CLI and Industrial 1 zones in the city, which includes Bangor Road, Bucksport Road and Route 1 beyond the Triangle. Based on state law, any dispensary must be located at least 500 feet from any private or public school. The city ordinance now also requires that a dispensary be located at least 500 feet from other public facilities such as parks and playgrounds, as well as substance abuse clinics and places of worship.
State law allows a dispensary to provide medical marijuana to certified patients at the facility. The city regulations also permit delivery of the substance to patients within the district, which includes Washington and Hancock counties. The issue raised some concern among councilors in earlier meetings, and the regulations require that the facility develop a security plan not only for the dispensary, but also for the delivery service. That plan will require review and approval from the police chief before a city license is issued.
Councilor Stephen Beathem still had concerns about the delivery process and asked whether the drivers and vehicles used for deliveries would have special licenses and registration. Council Chairman Gary Fortier said the ordinance did not specifically require registration, but that both drivers and vehicles would come under review by the police chief during his review of the security plan.
Joe Lusardi of Maine Organic Therapy, the nonprofit company the state has approved to provide medical marijuana in the two-county district, said state law requires scrutiny of all employees of the dispensary.
“All employees will have to undergo a criminal background check and all will be subject to a random testing program,” Lusardi said. “That’s part of state law.”
He explained that the delivery process would be discreet, both for the benefit of the facility and patients. The vehicles used will not be marked and the drivers will not be handling any cash. All of those transactions will be done online, he said.
Councilors rejected Beathem’s suggestion to require a $50 registration fee for each vehicle used for delivery. But they agreed with his motion to increase the license fee from the proposed $500 to $1,000 a year.
“I think this is going to be very time-intensive for our Police Department,” he said. “I don’t think $500 is enough.”
Beathem added that if overseeing a dispensary is not a big problem for the department, the council could reduce the license fee in the future.
Regarding facility security, Lusardi said that there would be a security guard on the premises and that only employees and certified patients with identification cards would be allowed in the facility.
Just one resident spoke during Monday’s public hearing on the ordinance changes. Sonya Lee told councilors that she was very concerned about the liability issue surrounding medical marijuana and that there has been no discussion about including a warning that patients should not drive while under the influence of the medical marijuana as is required of other drugs.
“This is a serious issue,” she said. “And if someone on medical marijuana hits my grandchild or someone I love, and you as councilors have not taken action to protect them, I’ll be coming after you with everything I’ve got. I’m holding you responsible for the safety of our community.”
Lusardi said the medical marijuana would be dispensed in a bottle just like any other prescription bottle. But it was unclear whether the prescriptions would include such a warning.
City Manager Michelle Beal said she would look into the issue to determine whether the city had the authority to require such a warning on the bottles.