PORTLAND – The Portland Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that medical marijuana dispensaries be allowed in business zones where pharmacies and other retail stores are now located.

The designation would allow Northeast Patients Group to open a dispensary in a former Key Bank building at 959 Congress St., near the corner of St. John Street.

The Planning Board recommendation covers B-2, B-3 and B-7 zones. City planners say the city will eventually adopt performance standards and possibly a comprehensive ordinance regulating dispensaries.

The City Council, which has the final say, will vote on the zoning changes Monday.

Rebecca DeKeuster, chief executive officer of Northeast Patients Group, praised the city’s planning efforts.

“It is one of the most sensible plans I have seen in years doing this work,” she told the board. There was no public opposition at the meeting.

Some planners said they would consider allowing dispensaries in other city zoning districts. That issue will be studied later.

DeKeuster said the nonprofit plans to open the dispensary in December and estimates it will have 267 patients by the end of 2011.

She said she expects business to grow considerably over the next several years. Based on what has occurred in other states that allow medical marijuana use, 1 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents will become medical marijuana patients, DeKeuster said.

She said patients will be able to buy marijuana for use at home. They will also be able to consume marijuana inside the dispensary, but will have to remain there afterward until no longer under its influence.

The non-profit will build a commercial kitchen so patients can put marijuana in food, such as brownies, crackers and lozenges. Patients will be able to smoke marijuana and also inhale vaporized crystals.

Northeast expects to sell the marijuana for $340 an ounce. It will be grown in a warehouse in the Bangor area.

DeKeuster said the nonprofit is still negotiating the lease terms for the 959 Congress St. property. If there is no agreement, she said, the dispensary will find a business zone location elsewhere in the city.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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