AUGUSTA — A majority of city councilors expressed interest in banning medical marijuana caregivers from selling to their patients in all residential zoning districts in the city.

That desire diverges from the recommendation of a city subcommittee, and the Planning Board, that the city regulate – but not ban – medical marijuana caregivers operating out of their homes.

Most councilors, in an informal straw poll after a lengthy discussion last week on what the city should do to regulate medical marijuana sales in Augusta, indicated they do not want to allow retail sales of medical marijuana by caregivers in residential zoning districts. Councilors did indicate they would favor allowing medical marijuana caregivers to operate in commercial and other nonresidential zones in the city – even out of their homes – if they are located in a commercially zoned district.

“If a physician or pharmacy wanted to open a business, they’d have to follow our rules, our zoning, and they couldn’t go to a residential area; they’d have to go to a commercial area,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind. “So why don’t we just follow the same rules for this? A caregiver is a caregiver. Whether it’s a marijuana caregiver, a physician, a dentist or a pharmacy, you put them where we think it’s appropriate in the city to operate a business.”

Resident Catherine Cobb, a member of the subcommittee studying marijuana-related issues in Augusta, warned that such a ban would upset some caregivers already operating out of their homes in residential neighborhoods in Augusta. Cobb, the former head of the state’s medical marijuana program and a board member of Wellness Connection, which has four dispensaries, including one in Gardiner, and a medical marijuana cultivation operation in Auburn, said the city could be sued if its actions are seen as limiting the number of caregivers within its borders. State law, Cobb said, doesn’t allow municipalities to limit the number of medical marijuana caregivers.

Mayor David Rollins said the city is within its rights in banning medical marijuana caregivers from residential zoning districts because it is setting land-use rules, which apply to any business. And it would not be limiting the number of caregivers in the city, just where they could locate.

The subcommittee and the Planning Board both had recommended regulating small medical marijuana caregivers as home occupation businesses. That would allow them to operate in their homes as long as they complied with proposed new rules for such businesses, including a limit of no more than two patients a day driving to the home, controlling odors, arranging all visits by appointment and making sure all cultivation takes place indoors behind secure doors.

Instead, councilors asked the city staff last week to look into banning caregivers from operating within residential zones.

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander, chairwoman of the subcommittee, said Augusta currently does not allow any retail businesses as home occupations in residential zones. She said Augusta was the only community in Maine she knew of that is discussing regulating medical marijuana caregivers as home occupation businesses.

Cobb said other communities probably are watching to see what Augusta does.

Councilors, many of whom have expressed concerns about the potential effect on their neighbors of medical marijuana caregivers operating in their homes, agreed to take up the issue again in a workshop session, probably next week.

In June, councilors voted to institute a 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana storefront operations to give the city time to come up with regulations for the growing industry.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]ralmaine.com

Twitter: kedwardskj

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