The Old Orchard Beach Town Council is considering an emergency moratorium on medical marijuana cultivation facilities, a move prompted by a local man’s unusual proposal to lease a building for registered caregivers to grow marijuana plants.
Pierre Bouthiller, a local builder and firefighter, wants to turn a former post office into a secure facility for four caregivers to grow the drug for their patients. He also would like to use the facility as a research laboratory to study the medicinal effects of the drug.
It would be the first of its kind in Old Orchard Beach, and perhaps the first statewide.
Town Manager Larry Mead said passing an emergency 60-day moratorium on cultivation in a nonresidential setting would give the town time to study the implications and develop rules for facilities where state-licensed caregivers would grow the drug to supply their patients. Councilors will take up the proposed moratorium at a meeting Tuesday. It would not affect caregivers growing marijuana in their homes.
“Because it’s new and uncharted territory for the town, it makes sense to take a look at it,” Mead said.
Town officials worry about security, among other things. Bouthiller said his facility would be more secure than the homes where the drug is cultivated now.
Bouthiller said he wants to open the facility at 60 Saco Ave. Town officials said he has not yet provided a formal application to the planning department, although he did give a presentation on his plan during a planning board workshop last week. Town planner Jeffrey Hinderliter said much of the discussion centered on whether the facility would be an allowed use in that business zone.
“The planning board discussed it, but because of the potential of the emergency moratorium, the board decided to take no action until the moratorium is voted on,” Hinderliter said.
Under state law, registered caregivers in Maine are allowed to grow marijuana for as many as five patients. The small-scale production of marijuana by caregivers has become a cottage industry in the state and is an alternative to the state’s eight licensed dispensaries, which can grow and sell marijuana on a much larger scale. Patients typically pay dispensaries and caregivers hundreds of dollars an ounce for the drug, although prices can vary widely.
Caregivers can have up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for each patient and a maximum of six mature plants per patient. They are not allowed to form collectives in which they share supplies or combine their crops into larger-scale production.
John Martins, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program, said there is currently no facility in Maine like the one Bouthiller is proposing and that “we cannot make any type of determination (about its legality) without details and ample time to review the proposal.”
Bouthiller said his facility would not be a collective, but rather provide a separate and secure space for each grower to lease independently. He would like the building to eventually include a laboratory for research into the use of medical marijuana. The 4,000-square-foot building would be outfitted with advanced security systems and each caregiver would be thoroughly vetted, he said. Patients would not be allowed on the property.
In background material provided to the Town Council, Mead said the cultivation of medical marijuana outside of a residential setting raises concerns about public safety. He said “the town’s existing ordinances do not provide an adequate mechanism to regulate and control medical marijuana nonresidential production facilities and are inadequate to prevent the potential for serious public harm.”
Bouthiller said he is not a caregiver and does not use marijuana, and that he was opposed to medical marijuana until his friend was diagnosed with cancer. He said he then saw first-hand the relief it brought to his friend in the final months of his battle with esophageal cancer. Bouthiller said he wishes there were more concrete data available about its use, which prompted his desire to partner with researchers.
Many local caregivers are worried about safety because growing marijuana at home can make them a target for criminals, Bouthiller said. He has already spoken with multiple caregivers who are interested in his plan, including some whose homes have been broken into, he said.
Police Chief Dana Kelley said he knows of one Old Orchard Beach caregiver whose home was twice broken into, including one time when the homeowner was tied up by the intruder. Kelley said he has not yet given town officials an opinion on Bouthiller’s proposal because he hasn’t seen enough specific details.
Bouthiller said it is “hard to believe it’s an emergency” for the Town Council to consider the moratorium.
“This was kind of a curveball. It came as a surprise to me,” he said. “To my mind, the real emergency is with patients who are suffering day to day without alternatives to the opiates pushed on them.”
If approved, the emergency moratorium would be in effect for 60 days unless extended by the Town Council. Mead said York recently imposed a similar moratorium to allow time to develop an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana cultivation in that town.