SOUTH PORTLAND — A divided City Council on Monday will consider renewing a six-month moratorium on marijuana businesses in the city, with some councilors questioning whether it’s necessary since the Legislature isn’t expected to have state laws governing marijuana operations ironed out until February 2018.

The council passed the moratorium after Maine voters approved recreational marijuana use by a slim margin last November. The goal was to give city staff members and the council time to develop and pass licensing and zoning regulations related to growing, manufacturing, testing and retail operations. The ban runs through May 21.

Councilors appeared to be split on renewing the moratorium during a workshop discussion Monday. While Maxine Beecher, Linda Cohen and Mayor Patti Smith indicated they thought it would be a good idea, Claude Morgan, Eben Rose and Susan Henderson indicated they thought it was unnecessary. Councilor Brad Fox was absent.

City Manager Scott Morelli said the municipal staff has recommended extending the moratorium to avoid the potential but “unlikely scenario” of lawsuits being filed by eager marijuana entrepreneurs. Some have already taken steps toward establishing operations in the city, such as seeking warehouse space to lease, Morgan said.

Maine is among eight states plus the District of Columbia where adults can legally grow, possess and use marijuana for personal, recreational use. More than two dozen additional states – including Maine – also allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

While recreational possession became legal in Maine on Jan. 30, the first retail marijuana stores are not expected to open until the spring or summer of 2018 as state policymakers and regulators craft rules for licensing retail sales.

A major question facing legislators is whether the state should begin licensing marijuana social clubs along with other retail operations, which also has proven to be a stumbling block for some South Portland councilors.

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