PORTLAND – The City Council formally opened the door Monday to Portland’s first medical marijuana dispensary.

Councilors voted unanimously to add dispensaries to the list of permitted land uses in three business zones where pharmacies and other retail stores now operate.

The Northeast Patients Group plans to open a state-licensed, nonprofit dispensary in Portland in December. Exactly where the dispensary will be is still not clear.

The group’s preferred location is a former Key Bank building at 959 Congress St., near the corner of St. John Street. That building is in one of the downtown business districts where dispensaries are now permitted.

It also is within 500 feet of a property occupied by a church and a small private school, the Christian Academy of Portland. State law says no dispensary can be within 500 feet of a public or private school.

Catherine Cobb, director of licensing for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Monday that the Christian Academy of Portland is not a state-licensed private school and that she is researching whether its presence makes the Congress Street site off-limits to the dispensary.

The Rev. Stephen Reynolds of the Deliverance Center said the church’s school typically has a small number of students from kindergarten through high school. It has operated in all but a few years since 1978, although it did not operate last year, he said. Reynolds said he expects four or five students this fall.

Rebecca DeKeuster, chief operating officer of the Northeast Patients Group, has said she was not aware of the school until last week and will comply with any decision by the state. She has not signed a lease for the former bank building and said the zoning changes approved by city councilors Monday allow for plenty of suitable alternative sites.

Monday’s vote followed a failed proposal by the city’s attorney to temporarily ban dispensaries and write more detailed guidelines. City councilors instead asked for zoning changes to allow the initial dispensary without delay.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]