Presque Isle city councilors Doug Cyr, left, Mike Chasse, center, and Craig Green, right, vote to approve a recreational marijuana ordinance at a city council/planning board meeting in January 2020. The council has just approved the city's seventh cannabis business. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle City Council voted Wednesday to approve Jonathan Martin for a medical marijuana license, making him the city’s seventh cannabis retailer.

The city’s list of marijuana businesses has expanded rapidly in less than two years, with four operating now and three more on the way.

Councilors first approved the licensing of marijuana shops in January 2020, wanting to tap into the growing industry for its economic benefits. Now the question is whether each of them will get enough business to remain viable.

 “I think there is going to be a day of reckoning, where only the lean and mean are going to survive,” Mike Cyr, owner of Bradley’s Citgo and Car Wash and several real estate ventures, said. “I don’t mind it, because the business is good for the town, though sooner or later there is only going to be so much pie to go around.”

“People need to know that this is not just an unlimited resource of money,” said City Councilor Craig Green. “All these stores have different specialties, but even so, due to the economics of it, I don’t think that they will all be open in, say, five years.”

The city ordinance legalized the sale and cultivation of pot within city limits. Presque Isle’s first medical marijuana dispensary, Northern Maine Flower, opened in 2020, and councilors approved the city’s first retail marijuana shop, Full Bloom Cannabis, in April of this year.

The city ordinance  specifies that shops can only be located within proper zoning limits, and cannot be within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing public or private school.

Councilor Kevin Freeman said the city also established a certain amount of spacing between the businesses. He reiterated that the council approved the ordinance because of the economic boost it could bring to the area.

“I feel like if we don’t do it in this town, the other towns will do it,” Freeman said. “I felt like this was an opportunity to get some income, traffic and employment in the town.”

Some retailers are undeterred by the competition.

“We have always been welcoming to everybody,” said Northern Maine Flower owner Preston Tracey. “We want to help people realize that this isn’t bad, but the existing stigma definitely hurts it.”

Other retailers are more hesitant about the increased competition and worry there may not be enough customers to go around.

“I am not afraid of competition, but too much is not good,” Joe Pelkey, owner of Star City Wellness, said.

“Down in Bangor they are dropping like flies, and the bigger stores come in and take over. There is only so much to go around, and I think there needs to be a limit on that. At one point it becomes too much,” Pelkey said.

But Presque Isle’s city ordinance for the sale of medical and recreational marijuana has no set guidelines or rules for how many of these businesses can operate within the city. There are also no limits as to the type of retail business, be it a tobacco shop, restaurant or bookstore.

Though all of the shops currently open have been effectively complying with the rules, councilors said they have heard two primary areas of concern from residents. The first is store locations. Since the businesses are mostly concentrated on the Main Street strip, residents worry that marijuana retailers are “taking over” that area.

While many concede the herb has medical benefits, many are “caught up” in the recreational use, councilor Craig Green said. Green said he had heard concerns from residents that since marijuana is a drug, that may give people the message that drugs are OK.

The council discussed holding a public forum at the December meeting about the city’s marijuana ordinance, allowing residents the opportunity to voice their questions and concerns and for all to discuss plans for the future of the businesses.

 

David DiMinno

David grew up in New York, and moved to Maine to study political science at the University of Maine. In his spare time, he loves hiking, playing tennis and skiing.