YORK, Maine — A 2015 lawsuit against the town by medical marijuana caregivers on White Birch Lane has been dropped by the plaintiffs, because the rapidly changing marijuana landscape in Maine makes the case “moot” at this point, said their attorney.
“John Doe 1-8” filed suit against the town in April, 2015, five months after voters approved an ordinance requiring caregivers to obtain a business license. This action followed a long period of legal wrangling that ultimately led to a Board of Appeals decision that medical marijuana cultivation is a manufacturing operation and therefore allowed at the White Birch Lane site.
Anonymity was at the heart of the lawsuit filed by the John Does against York. In order to obtain a business license, the caregivers would have to fill out a form, which would then become public record. The lawsuit alleged that the caregivers would be required to break the state’s medical marijuana law, which gave them anonymity, in order to comply with the ordinance.
The town argued that the state regulations promulgated as a result of the law did not “displace” the town’s Home Rule charter authority. The town agreed, however, that until the case was adjudicated, the town would not force the licensing issue.
After that initial flurry of filings, however, the lawsuit sat in limbo until recently, when York County Superior Court clerks told both sides to get ready for trial.
“I approached my clients and asked them what they wanted to do. It’s at their request that we decided to dismiss the case,” said attorney Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor.
She said there are no longer eight plaintiffs, for one thing. Some have since left the facility “and are in various places.” But the bigger issue, she said, is the fact that the entire structure in place for medical caregivers is changing while the state grapples with how to proceed with the legalization of recreational marijuana. That measure passed a statewide vote in November, 2016.
New medical marijuana rules to replace those created in 2009 and that closed regulatory loopholes were supposed to go into effect in January, but are now on hold until May. In addition, the regulations governing recreational marijuana remain in committee and haven’t made it to the floor of the Legislature yet.
With all this in the balance, said Williams, “the issue with what York can or can’t do vis a vis my specific clients really became moot.
“Even if we prevailed, it would have cost money on both sides. Meanwhile, the town kept its word and didn’t pursue the issue,” she said.
One of the people who had been growing at the White Birch Lane facility as of last year and who had been open about his operation, South Berwick resident Ron Fousek, did not return a request for comment.
Town Manager Steve Burns said the first step in securing compliance with town ordinance will be for the assessing department to contact the caregivers. Each grower will also owe personal property tax, said Burns. Because they have been anonymous up until now, the town may have to have police knock door to door — but he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“We’ve never had businesses that don’t come in for a license,” he said. “I take this dismissal as a positive sign that they are going to come forth and get a business license, that they’re agreeable to do what we’ve asked them to do.”
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.