The Biddeford City Council has enacted a six-month moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries and marijuana growing facilities in the city.

During the next six months, city staff and the planning board will examine land use regulations and develop a recommendation for the City Council to consider. Biddeford is one of a small number of Maine communities grappling with how to regulate medical marijuana caregivers.

City Manager Jim Bennett said the moratorium is a “timeout” that allows the city to get answers to questions about how it can regulate caregivers with commercial growing facilities. He said the issue came to the attention of city staff when a resident sought permission to build a barn and storage facility that would house the growing operations of several caregivers.

“We’re sort of walking in an area we’re trying to understand,” Bennett said. “Do we have the right to try to regulate these types of activities by land use? We certainly don’t have the right to say no one could grow in the community.”

The council voted 6-3 in favor of the moratorium, with Councilors Bob Mills, Laura Seaver and Michael Swanton opposed. Councilors who supported the order said it makes sense to look at the issue and see if there are policies that need to be put in place, but opposing councilors raised questions about the need for regulation and how policies would be enforced.

There are about 2,225 caregivers in Maine. Biddeford officials do not know how many caregivers are growing in the city because they are not required to register with or notify the city.

Towns and cities are allowed to put zoning rules in place for where caregivers can grow and sell, but have to be careful not to conflict with state law. Caregivers are required by law to cultivate within a secured, enclosed area and to have fences if growing outside.

One of the state’s eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries operates in Biddeford, and a different dispensary operates a growing facility in one of Biddeford’s business parks. Dispensaries are licensed and regulated as large-scale marijuana suppliers and can serve an unlimited number of patients.

Caregivers – who are licensed by the state – are allowed to grow up to six mature plants to supply five patients. However, some caregivers supply a larger number of patients by rotating their customers and keeping only five active customers at a time. Caregiver applications and patient records are confidential under state law, which means municipal employees often don’t know how many caregivers are operating in their communities.

Seaver said she has “significant concerns” about the moratorium and trying to regulate caregivers.

“For someone to be a caregiver, it’s not a business,” she said. “What you’re trying to do is put a moratorium on something people are doing that is perfectly legal under state law in their own homes.”

Councilor Mark Lessard, who voted in favor of the moratorium, said he has concerns about infringing on people’s individual rights, but thinks “it’s important we take six months to be able to review this from a number of different angles.” He said the length of the moratorium is burdensome.

Roby Fecteau, the city’s code enforcement officer, said the city has no interactions with individual patients and that the moratorium will not keep patients from growing their own plants.

“What we’re looking for is true growing facilities where there are multiple plants, not just six plants,” he said. “As part of the moratorium, the city will have to define what a growing facility is.”

Bennett said he anticipates the six months will be adequate to consider the issue and does not anticipate the council will need to extend the moratorium.

 


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