WATERVILLE — City councilors made it clear Tuesday they do not want a marijuana dispensary or related facility in or near the downtown under current zoning rules.

They voted 7-0 to place a 6-month moratorium on accepting applications and issuing permits for such facilities, including marijuana dispensaries, cultivation operations and storage.

The council must take two more votes to finalize a moratorium and could do that at the next council meeting in two weeks.

If six months is not long enough to develop appropriate rules regulating marijuana-related facilities, councilors say they would extend the moratorium.

“It’s not a good thing to have,” said Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, an independent councilor representing Ward 7. “I don’t want it in the city, and I think we should prohibit it if we can.”

Northeast Patients Group, based in Augusta, has cited the former KFC building on Water Street in Ward 7 as a possible site for a medical marijuana dispensary.

The building is located across the street from the Hathaway Creative Center, a complex Councilor Thomas R.W. Longstaff, D-Ward 6, said the city has put a lot of effort into developing. Having a marijuana facility there would thwart ongoing efforts to attract businesses to the center, he said.

Longstaff wondered aloud whether, given that medical marijuana facilities are legal, they can be prohibited in the city.

“I think we can prohibit it if the city doesn’t want it,” said Mayor Paul LePage, who also is the Republican nominee for governor. “Some communities go dry. You can go dry if you decide you want to go dry.”

Councilor Mary-Anne Beal, D-Ward 2, who proposed the moratorium, said that was not the case.

“According to Maine Municipal (Association), we cannot ban it,” she said.

Beal said earlier that she opposes a marijuana facility at the former KFC, as it is in a residential area and a stone’s throw from downtown, which the city is trying to grow and support. A moratorium would allow for officials to establish boundaries and conditions for a dispensary, she said.

“It just gives us an opportunity to make this right, if we get a dispensary, to do it right,” she said.

City Solicitor William Lee said that during the moratorium period, the city would be required to work on developing rules — that the city may not just sit back and do nothing.

The city has not received an application for a dispensary, according to City Manager Michael Roy. Roy said before the meeting that Northeast Patients Group approached the city to ask if current city zoning rules allow for such a facility — and they do, he said.

Northeast’s attorney notified the city that Augusta would be the first choice for such a dispensary and that Waterville is the second choice, according to Roy.

Matt Nazar, deputy development director for the city of Augusta, said earlier Tuesday that he does not know how Waterville’s potential moratorium would affect a proposal to put a dispensary in Augusta.

“The city of Augusta does have locations in the city where these uses are currently allowed,” he said. “If a dispensary wanted to locate in one of those districts where a dispensary is currently allowed, they could do that. As to whether or not one would, I really can’t predict.”

Becky DeKeuster, Northeast’s executive director, said by phone Tuesday that if Waterville approves a moratorium, her group would still like to meet with the city to discuss plans for a dispensary. “Every city needs to look at this,” she said. “Two of our board members are former educators. Part of our mission is to help people understand the science behind this.”

DeKeuster said she worked seven years at a one of northern California’s longest-running and most respected dispensaries and the facility was no more dangerous than a bank or a CVS pharmacy; in fact, crime decreased there, she said, because the dispensary had a security guard on the premises 24 hours a day and cameras.

“A well-run dispensary is not a crime magnet,” she said. “You have to remember who they’re serving.

“A dispensary serves severely and seriously ill people who have illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma and Crohn’s Disease,” she said. “These are people that are wrestling with issues that affect their entire quality of life.”

Police Chief Joseph Massey said he worries such a dispensary would create issues that occur around the methadone clinic in Waterville, including people driving under the influence, fights, assaults, thefts, children left in vehicles and people illegally diverting drugs.

However, Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said a marijuana dispensary would be different in that it serves sick people with painful diseases; people who go to the methadone clinic are addicted to drugs.

“It’s not necessarily an addiction treatment, I don’t think,” O’Donnell said.

Beverly Busque and her husband, Andrew, who live next to the proposed KFC site on Water Street, oppose a marijuana dispensary and have been picketing with signs outside their home each day. Andrew Busque picketed outside city hall Tuesday night during the council meeting; Beverly attended the meeting.

She said afterward that she was relieved at the council’s vote. “I’m glad. I’m very, very happy,” she said.

She said she thinks one of the reasons the KFC site is being considered for a marijuana dispensary is that the cartoon “South Park” depicted a medical marijuana facility operating at a KFC.

Andrew Busque said that some people who see the couple picketing outside their house show support, but others threaten them.

“They go by and tell us to go home. I say, ‘We are home.’ It’s just not a good thing. In California, they have a doctor on site. People walk in off the street and need something for a headache or a backache and they hand it to them. I think over there it’s getting out of hand.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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