The Old Orchard Beach Planning Board this week will consider new rules for medical marijuana production facilities prompted by a local man’s proposal to open a secure commercial building for licensed caregivers.

Town officials say the local rules are needed to deal with commercial medical marijuana facilities not covered by state statutes, which set out requirements for growing the drug in private homes and at state-licensed dispensaries.

The Planning Board on Thursday is expected to review the proposed amendments and schedule a public hearing for Dec. 11. The board could vote as early as December to forward the changes to the Town Council for approval.

The proposed ordinance changes restrict commercial marijuana production facilities to one business zone, outline a process for review by town officials and limit the number of caregivers who can grow the drug in one building.

But Pierre Bouthiller, who proposed the production facility, said the town is producing these rules in “bad faith” and he may sue if the new rules continue to exclude the location of the building he is looking to redevelop. He first proposed the facility in June, but town officials say his plan is not grandfathered because he did not submit a formal proposal.

Bouthiller said the zone changes exclude the Saco Avenue building he wants to convert for therapeutic cannabis uses, though they would be allowed in a zone a few hundred yards away.

“It’s an unreasonable restriction,” he said of the choice to limit the facilities to only one business zone. “Quite frankly, I can’t imagine (the court) would find any valid cause to exclude that zone.”

The Town Council last July enacted an emergency 60-day moratorium on the cultivation of medical marijuana in non-commercial facilities to give town officials time to develop rules outlining what zone would be most appropriate for that type of business. The council has since extended the moratorium three times.

The moratorium and review of zoning for commercial medical marijuana facilities was prompted by Bouthiller’s proposal to turn a former post office on Saco Avenue into a secure facility for four caregivers to grow the drug for their patients. He also wants to use the location as a research facility to study the medicinal effects of cannabis.

Under state law, registered caregivers in Maine are allowed to grow marijuana for as many as five patients. 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.

Town Manager Larry Mead said Bouthiller’s proposal – a first for the town – created “a lot of unknowns.”

“The state law never envisioned this type of commercial use, so it’s left to the towns to deal with it,” he said. “It’s really just an attempt to deal with the fact that state statute doesn’t hit this particular type of use.”

The proposed zoning changes in Old Orchard Beach would restrict commercial production facilities or a registered dispensary to the General Business District 1 – the one that allows the widest range of businesses – and require approval from the Planning Board as a conditional use. No more than four growers would be allowed to use a single production facility, and each facility must be at least 250 feet away from schools, churches, parks and day cares. Any sign with the word “marijuana” or an image of the plant would be prohibited.

The zoning changes require each production facility be located at least 250 feet from a similar facility to “prevent a concentration of these facilities and help ensure compliance with the state prohibition against collectives.”

The rules would also restrict the town to one dispensary, though the state controls how many dispensaries can operate in Maine. Currently, the one dispensary allowed for the public health district that includes Old Orchard Beach is in Biddeford.

The zoning changes do not apply to caregivers who grow marijuana in their homes.

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.

Old Orchard Beach is not alone in grappling with rules for medical marijuana growing facilities.

Voters in York last week approved new rules limiting where medical marijuana caregivers can grow their plants, a proposal that grew out of a conflict between one such facility and its neighbors.

York’s zoning changes regulate marijuana as a land use, restrict caregivers growing in commercial settings to a section along the Route 1 corridor, and prevent more than one grower from using the same lot. They also require a public approval process and establish a business licensing requirement to monitor ongoing consistency with the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program.


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