This April 22, 2016, file photo shows a marijuana bud at a medical marijuana facility in Unity, Maine. Maine marijuana enthusiasts will probably be able to purchase their preferred products in retail stores by March 2020 after years of waiting. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Brewer has taken a step toward allowing recreational marijuana shops to open in the city.

The city’s Planning Board on Monday night voted to recommend that the City Council overturn a moratorium on adult-use marijuana stores, which have been allowed in the state since last fall. The board also voted to loosen restrictions that dictate how close medical marijuana facilities can be to schools and places of worship.

The planning board’s vote marks a step toward the city allowing retailers from a growing industry to set up shop locally. Marijuana retail sales have been growing in Maine ever since recreational shops were allowed to open last October. The state recorded $6.5 million in sales in June, the highest monthly level since sales began, according to the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy.

Across the river from Brewer, a handful of marijuana shops have opened their doors in Bangor since gaining their state licenses.

If the Brewer City Council takes the planning board’s recommendation, adult-use marijuana stores would be allowed to operate in the city’s general business and professional business zones. Testing facilities would be allowed in the general business and industrial zones.

Adult-use stores would have to be located at least 500 feet from existing schools, religious institutions, day care facilities and methadone clinics, as well as 100 feet from any existing private residences.

Medical marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries would have to be located at least 500 feet from any pre-existing private or public schools, places of worship, licensed day care facilities or methadone clinics, and at least 100 feet from any private residence.

Adult-use stores and medical marjiuana dispensaries would also need to be 500 feet from one another, City Planner Linda Johns said.

Brewer’s land use code currently only allows the city to have one registered medical marijuana dispensary and one cultivation facility in the professional business district, on Dirigo Drive.

The city’s previous rule required that medical marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries be at least 1,000 feet from existing public or private schools.

Pastor Wade Townley of the First Pentecostal Church, which operates Brewer Christian Academy, told the planning board Monday that he was concerned that lowering the minimum distance between marijuana facilities and schools and places of worship would be detrimental to the academy’s students.

The church is located at 14 Parkway South in Brewer, which intersects with Dirigo Drive. Wellness Connection of Maine operates a medical dispensary at 221 Dirigo Drive.

Mayor Michele LaBree Daniels said that schools such as Brewer Christian Academy would still have a 500-foot buffer around them from any marijuana facilities.

“Hopefully you can see what we’ve come up with is a good solution for giving Brewer the opportunity to have more business and have the businesses that are coming in,” Daniels said.

The City Council will discuss the changes at its next meeting on Sept. 14, Daniels said.

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.