SOUTH PORTLAND —The City Council unanimously passed a first reading on regulating medical marijuana retail businesses, and also postponed action on short-term rentals.

There was no discussion by councilors Aug. 21 on the short-term rental issue, which was pushed until Sept. 4, following a successful local petition to overturn the law. 

Earlier this month, the Planning Board recommended the City Council move ahead with regulations that would welcome medical marijuana growers and retailers in sections of the city. The second reading and a public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 18. 

Councilor Claude Morgan said voters spoke when they approved legalizing marijuana in 2016, and said regardless councilors’ personal feelings, the council decided to “get out ahead” of the issues and not “be scrambling” when Augusta gives the all-clear signal for towns to draft local law when state law is finalized. 

The draft zoning and licensing amendments include defining types of medical marijuana businesses and the commercial and industrial zoning districts where the businesses would be allowed. 

Cultivation facilities may also be allowed to sell some product.

The ordinance would not affect home-based unregistered caregivers, but would regulate registered caregivers and caregiver storefronts, registered caregiver cultivation facilities, and manufacturing and testing facilities for medical marijuana products, according to city officials.

The ordinance would also update zoning policy related to dispensaries, allowing them in all of the same zones that now allow adult-use marijuana stores and cultivation, and would increase the limit of one. 

Site plan review by the Planning Board would be required to start an adult use and medical marijuana business, and applicants would also be required to submit a security plan, according to the proposal. 

Similar to recreational retail shops, medical marijuana storefronts would be prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools or within 300 feet of places of worship, measured from property lines.

Adult-use marijuana testing facilities do not require a city license, and none would be required of medical marijuana testing facilities unless the council decides otherwise. 

The city first began considering how to manage recreational and medical marijuana storefronts in February after it received several inquiries from prospective businesses interested in opening medical marijuana offices and storefronts.

Last November, the council voted on rules for establishing retail cannabis businesses. Most other municipalities in the area, including Scarborough, have enacted moratoriums to give them more time to adopt regulations consistent with state law.

The unanimous Planning Board vote to send the ordinance to the council’s Aug. 21 meeting came after discussions that mostly focused on security and odor. The board decided that the product should be kept secure, within an enclosed area, and also a third party should review odor compliance, whether at the property line or at the door of a facility.

The board also considered the possibility of grower cooperatives, or several individuals growing personal-use marijuana on a single parcel of land, but that provision will not be allowed, according to Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny. 

South Portland voted in favor of the statewide initiative to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.

State law now allows individuals to cultivate three flowering plants, 12 immature plants, and an unlimited number of seedlings for personal use on their property.

Short-term rentals

Sixty-seven pages with signatures of registered city voters were submitted and certified earlier this month by Michael Frabotta of Preble Street, who has twice petitioned to overturn the short-term rental ordinance. 

The council must either comply with the intent of the petition and scrap the rules, or put the question out to referendum in November. The decision will be made Sept. 4 following a public hearing. 

Earlier this month, all councilors, with the exception of Eben Rose, said they supported bringing the issue to referendum. Rose said he did not support a decision by the voters because the city’s existing code restrictions are sufficient to bar non-homeowner-occupied rentals in residential sections of the city. He said what is needed is a more structured, consistent approach to enforcement.

Councilor Kate Lewis said Aug. 22 after the meeting that she is leaning toward the referendum, and said she is comfortable sending the ordinance to a vote. 

On July 17, the council voted 5-2 in favor of a re-crafted short-term rental ordinance, with Rose and Adrian Dowling opposed.

Under the rules, unhosted stays were banned in strictly residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, such as renting out a room in a home where the owners are present, would be allowed in residential sections. 

Unhosted stays are allowed in mixed-use and commercial neighborhoods. 

Short-lived rental restrictions were first adopted in February, then repealed in April after opponents collected enough signatures to force the council to revisit the decision. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at [email protected] 

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