YORK, Maine — Medical marijuana is being grown in York in a facility authorities believe is operating legally under state law, but over which the town has no control.
“We think it’s a legitimate operation,” Police Chief Doug Bracy said on Friday.
Because of state law and confidentiality under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, “We’re limited in our ability to look at this,” Bracy said.
For this reason, and because of public safety concerns about the facility being a target for break-ins, town officials are keeping mum on where the pot is being grown.
However, the York Police Department has fielded several complaints from neighbors of increased traffic on the street and the smell of marijuana, either from it being smoked or from plants being ventilated from the greenhouse, according to Bracy.
There also may be more than one medical marijuana growing facility in York, but there’s no way for police to know other than by receiving resident complaints, as neither the state nor the grower is required under state law to contact local authorities, Bracy said.
There is also no state requirement for residents holding a medical marijuana card to notify police, he said.
“We don’t have the right to go to the facility,” Bracy said. “We’ve not been given the authority to regulate it or oversee it.”
Community Development Director Steve Burns wants to change this by having a local ordinance for medical marijuana facilities like for any other business.
There is nothing on the books, said Burns, who would like to see something go forward for voter approval in November.
Burns asked the planning board for help this past week in a memo he also sent to Bracy and Town Manager Rob Yandow.
“This is just a land use case for us,” Burns said Thursday. “Here’s the intention of the state to keep everything quiet and the intention of the town to keep everything open. There’s nothing I can find that it’s exempt from local permitting. … This is important stuff for neighbors to know about.”
The Planning Board is expected to take up the issue during a workshop on March 27 or in April, according to Chairman Todd Frederick.
“We’ll see what role the planning board has,” Frederick said Thursday. “Constituents in town are concerned about the process.”
The medical marijuana facility is in the general development zone, Burns said in the memo.
This covers about two-thirds of the town, he said.
The marijuana is being grown under a state permit for a caregiver, which allows up to six blooming plants, according to Bracy and Marietta D’Agostino, program manager for the Maine Medical Marijuana Program.
This means there may be more than six marijuana plants being grown at one time, as long as only six are in bloom, D’Agostino said. A caregiver can have up to five patients, she said.
The state is limited to having eight dispensaries, which can grow larger amounts of medical marijuana. There are 160 registered caregivers in York County, according to information from D’Agostino’s office.
As to Burns’ assertion that nothing stops York from having local regulation, “We would agree with that,” she said.
Maine has allowed prescribing and limited possession of medical marijuana since 1999, and the growing and dispensing of the drug since 2009, according to www.maine.gov.
The law states D’Agostino’s department can only disclose information on the grower in the act of an active police investigation, she said.
That brings up the question of enforcement between the legal dispensing of medical marijuana versus someone abusing the law to sell or buy the drug illegally.
“It’s a big question the towns are struggling with,” D’Agostino said.
Bracy compared the issue to the one surrounding prescription drugs, which are both legal under a doctor’s prescription and illegal when not. His officers are not necessarily staking out the caregiver’s property or stopping vehicles to see if everyone coming from there has a medical marijuana card, he said.
There’s a larger issue of what the state and its constituents want to allow, he said.
“When you look at it,” Bracy said, “what does society want to accept?”