FRENCHVILLE, Maine — A municipality and northern Maine’s only state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary are one step closer to an agreement granting the dispensary the necessary business zoning permits to operate in the town.

The Frenchville planning board denied a permit to Safe Alternatives Medical Marijuana Dispensary last May based on several incomplete sections of the dispensary’s permit application, including failure to pay the $500 permit fee, failure to obtain the proper boundary line variance and failure to secure an approved cultivation facility inspection by the town’s code enforcement officer.

Since then, Safe Alternatives has been operating in Frenchville under state permits while it and the town sought legal mediation, which came together last week, according to Town Manager Casey Cote.

“The town of Frenchville and Safe Alternatives participated in mediation in an effort to resolve differences and avoid a long and expensive legal proceeding,” Cote said in a statement she released Friday. “A contingent agreement was reached pending approvals by the town.”

The Frenchville Board of Selectmen meets Jan. 9 at 6 p.m. to vote on the mediated agreement, Cote said.

“This was really nothing more than a zoning matter,” said Jonathan Berry, Safe Alternative attorney of the Portland firm Berry and Dion. “Nothing has really changed. The town has a legitimate interest, and Safe Alternatives has business interests they would like to protect.”

Berry said the mediation meetings between representatives of Safe Alternatives and the town were very productive, adding, “I think we put together a permit in which reasonable minds prevailed.”

Under the proposed agreement, Safe Alternatives would be able to refile its business application with the town, and the zoning problems in question would be considered pre-existing and nonconforming uses, exempting the business from those specific ordinance provisions for the existing facility, Cote said in the statement.

“Once you take medical marijuana out of it, it’s really not that sexy of an issue,” Berry said. “It really is a matter of zoning [and] what authority does the municipality have to zone under what circumstances.”

Reaching a mediated agreement gets the parties about halfway through the process, Berry said.

“Frenchville does have ordinances and licensing provisions,” he said. “We resolved all the obstacles they had spelled out [and] our application is pending before the town.”

Currently, according to Berry, Safe Alternatives is using its Frenchville site as a growing or cultivation site only and is not dispensing medical marijuana directly to clients from the building.

Rather, Safe Alternatives employees are delivering medical marijuana products to patients with valid medical licenses.

Berry said he did not know how many clients Safe Alternatives is serving or how many medical marijuana plants are at the Frenchville site.

Under the state’s medical marijuana licensing, administered by Maine Department of Health and Human Service’s division of licensing and regulations, state-licensed facilities may cultivate up to six mature marijuana plants for every client it is serving.

“The facility in Frenchville is a licensed dispensary and growing site,” said Joan Smyrski, MS

assistant director of community programs with DHHS. “It is literally a large, indoor greenhouse with all the technology necessary to grow a quality product.”

While Safe Alternatives currently delivers from the Frenchville location, Smyrski said it recently has been granted a license for a second medical marijuana facility in Eagle Lake.

Smyrski said she personally inspected the Frenchville operation in October and found it met all state medical marijuana licensing and security requirements.

She was unsure how many clients Safe Alternatives is currently supplying.

Pending approval of the mediated agreement by the Frenchville Board of Selectmen, Cote said, a pending lawsuit brought by Safe Alternatives in Aroostook County Superior Court will be dismissed.

“We are just waiting on the town, now,” Berry said.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.