HOULTON, Maine — Taking a pre-emptive strike as the town works to comply with the state’s medical marijuana law that was approved by voters in 2009, town councilors are preparing to review an ordinance outlining where such dispensaries could be allowed in the community.
The ordinance, which will go through a first meeting on Monday evening, also will deal with where marijuana can be cultivated in the community. The proposal would make changes to the town’s ordinances and codes if approved during a public hearing.
The law allows people suffering from certain medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, to use marijuana, to possess up to 2½ ounces of the drug and to grow up to six plants. It allows qualified individuals to set up medical marijuana dispensaries that would be licensed by the state and expands the list of ailments for which doctors can recommend medical marijuana.
More than 400 Mainers have applied to be medical marijuana patients under the new law, and nonprofit storefront dispensaries are swiftly preparing to open in eight Maine communities, bringing medical grade marijuana to qualified patients throughout the state. The eight dispensaries must meet strict requirements for security, hours of operation, patient education and public information regarding employees and board members.
Safe Alternatives, a nonprofit organization, has been cultivating marijuana plants in Frenchville since early October at the first operational state-licensed growing facility in Maine.
Houlton Town Manager Doug Hazlett acknowledged during an interview earlier this week that Maine law only allows for one such site in Aroostook County thus far, but the town wants to be ready for any changes in case more are authorized.
“We feel that the best places to allow for these sites would be in our airport and industrial zones,” Hazlett explained. “Those zones are on the outskirts of town and are much more private and confidential. It also affords more security.”
Last spring, councilors imposed a 180-day moratorium on the location or licensing of any medical marijuana dispensaries within the town. During that time, the town’s planning and zoning boards have worked on an appropriate ordinance.
“This has been a learning process for us,” said Hazlett. “There is really a lot to it and there are a lot of regulations at the state level. I really haven’t heard much in the community about our ordinance. I don’t expect to hear too much resistance. I think this will be a trial and error thing, and if we need to make changes, we will.”
Once the council approves the second reading, it will be scheduled for a public hearing on March 14.