The Saco City Council has approved an ordinance that restricts where medical marijuana growers can cultivate pot.

The small-scale marijuana growers, known under state law as caregivers, must either grow in their homes or in two of the city’s industrial zones.

Zoning rules adopted Monday night apply to suppliers who are registered with the state, have established patients and are growing marijuana outside of their primary residence. Maine law allows licensed caregivers to grow medical marijuana for up to five patients.

With increasing interest in commercial marijuana cultivation in the city, Saco put a six-month moratorium on new caregivers in June so it could draft its ordinance.

Councilors unanimously voted to approve the ordinance and repeal the moratorium Monday night. The ordinance went into effect on Tuesday.

Under the new rules, caregivers will be required to register as a business with the city and receive annual safety inspections from the fire department, code officer and electrical inspector. Grow operations will have to be in a secure area, cannot emit odor and cannot have outside displays that would draw attention to the business.

An operation will have to be sited 1,000 feet away from a school or day care and can have up to five caregivers.

There are no specific penalties for violating the ordinance.

The ordinance does not restrict caregivers who are cultivating inside of their own home, said Saco City Administrator Kevin Sutherland.

“We can’t regulate someone who becomes a caregiver and grows in their own home,” but the city can prohibit people from setting up a grow house in a home or building where they do not live, Sutherland said.

As the state’s medical marijuana market has grown, some caregivers have transitioned from a cottage industry to commercial cultivation. In some cases, caregivers serve many more than five patients by keeping a revolving list of patients who designate them as a caregiver for as long as they need to make a transaction.

Before the moratorium, there was intense interest from caregivers to locate in Saco, Sutherland added, and there are still some people who want to set up shop in the city.

Some of Maine’s medical marijuana growers are looking ahead to the November statewide referendum on legalizing recreational marijuana sales, which could expand business opportunities for established businesses.

There are a few caregivers who already grow in the city’s industrial, residential and business zones. Those businesses can continue operating and will not be required to retroactively get a business license or inspections, Sutherland said.

There are nearly 3,000 caregivers in Maine, up from 750 in 2011. The state also has eight highly regulated marijuana dispensaries that can provide marijuana to an unlimited number of patients.

Towns and cities in Maine have struggled with how to regulate caregivers without violating state laws that ensure strict confidentiality for caregivers and patients and don’t allow inspections from local law enforcement or code enforcement.

Sutherland said it took months working in consultation with the city’s attorney to come up with language that wouldn’t conflict with state law.

“It’s made it a little difficult for us to know how to move forward when the language is so vague at the state level,” Sutherland said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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