PORTLAND – The City Council voted Monday to open the city’s downtown to a medical marijuana dispensary without delay.

“Patients want this now,” said Councilor David Marshall, who urged other members to reject a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

The city’s attorney had recommended the temporary ban to give officials time to write new zoning and operating rules. His proposal also would have temporarily banned some small-scale cultivation and use of medical marijuana that has been legal in Maine for 11 years.

The council voted 9-0 to reject the moratorium after a public hearing in which advocates and patients said it would keep needed medication away from suffering, seriously ill people. No one spoke in favor of a moratorium.

“It was a good, strong showing of support from the council,” said Ben Chipman, who led the referendum campaign last fall to legalize nonprofit dispensaries for patients who have cancer, HIV and a list of other illnesses. Since 1999, patients and caregivers have had to grow their own marijuana. “We’ve been waiting 10 years to really have access for patients,” Chipman said.

Critics of the moratorium, who staged a small rally in Congress Square before the meeting, urged councilors not to stand in the way of helping patients who need access to the drug.

Chris Kenoyer of Portland told councilors that he has a spinal cord disease that doctors can’t cure, and marijuana is the way he manages the pain. “There is nothing they can do for me except make me a pill junkie. No thank you,” he said. “We want the dispensary here in Portland.”

Bob Hobbs of Raymond said he wants to be able to buy marijuana to control his daily pain.

“Let me tell you that it is hell, and to delay this relief for those of us who are patients seems to me an inhumane response,” Hobbs said. “I hope that I will finally have a period of time where I am free of pain.”

Several people pointed out that 75 percent of Portland voters supported the legalization of dispensaries at the polls in November.

John Eder, a former state legislator from Portland, said a moratorium “is completely out of step with the mood in Portland.”

City councilors voted against the moratorium with little discussion. “This has always been something that I thought should move forward and I’m just happy to see it,” said Councilor Dory Waxman.

After rejecting the moratorium, councilors voted in favor of allowing marijuana dispensaries in three downtown business districts, chosen for their access to public transportation and other medical and social services. The council’s recommendation will now go to the Planning Board before coming back for final approval as soon as next month.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services plans to award operating licenses to Maine’s first medical marijuana dispensaries by July 9.

The dispensaries will be spread around the state in eight regions, with one each in Cumberland and York counties. Portland is widely expected to be the home of the state’s busiest dispensary.

Dozens of Maine cities and towns adopted temporary moratoriums months ago while setting up zoning and operating guidelines, including Westbrook, South Portland and Biddeford.

Portland’s city attorney, Gary Wood, said he proposed the moratorium in Portland to give the city time to consider its own rules. Some councilors thanked Wood for raising the issue of dispensaries, but said they didn’t agree that the city needed to add any delays to medical-marijuana access.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: jrichardson@pressherald.com