OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to enact an emergency moratorium on the cultivation of medical marijuana in nonresidential facilities.
The 60-day moratorium was proposed by town officials in response to a local man’s plan to open a secure location for state-licensed caregivers to grow medical marijuana. The facility, if approved, would be the second of its kind in Maine and the first in Old Orchard Beach.
Because there are no similar facilities in Old Orchard Beach, the town lacks rules outlining what zone would be most appropriate for that type of business, according to town officials.
Pierre Bouthiller, a local builder and firefighter, wants to turn a former post office at 60 Saco Ave. 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.
Town Manager Larry Mead said the moratorium gives the town time to study the implications and develop rules for facilities where state-licensed caregivers would grow the drug to supply their patients.
While the town cannot regulate caregivers, it “does have a legal right to say where in the community that (nonresidential) facility can be.” Mead said the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the medical marijuana program, has not been able to tell the town if Bouthiller’s facility would be allowed because the state does not yet have specific details about the plan.
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.
Bouthiller said his facility would not be a collective and would provide separate, secure spaces for each caregiver. He said local caregivers are at risk to be victimized in their homes by criminals who are after their plants, but the central location would provide state-of-the-art security.
Town councilors offered few comments on Bouthiller’s plans before voting to enact the moratorium. Councilor Kenneth Blow said he has many questions about how the research aspect of the proposal would operate, given that the state does not have a framework in place to regulate that research.
Bouthiller, who advocates for more research into medical marijuana, said he will work with state officials to develop a framework for regulating research.
Councilor Malorie Pastor said having this type of facility in town could “put Old Orchard on the map and bring us into a community that is growing and growing and growing.” She said the moratorium will give Bouthiller more time to answer questions and build support in the community.
Bouthiller said the moratorium is a hurdle, but not one that will derail his plans.
“We certainly understand this is an educational process for all of us,” he said.
The emergency moratorium will be in effect for 60 days unless extended by the Town Council. York recently imposed a similar moratorium to allow time to develop an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana cultivation in that town.