The Portland City Council approved a moratorium Monday evening on some medical marijuana operations to give the city staff time to draft and develop rules.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the city’s planning and urban development director gave a preview of where marijuana facilities – including grow houses and retail stores – would be regulated in the city.

The moratorium in Maine’s largest city is intended to address a gap between two state bills that would grandfather operations opening between July 1 and Dec. 13.

One bill that took effect in July lets registered caregivers expand their operations, allowing retail sales for qualifying patients, manufacturing of marijuana concentrates for patients, and testing for research and development before state rules are set. It also explicitly allows municipalities to regulate registered caregivers.

Another bill taking effect later this year will lay out a more robust set of rules surrounding licensing, registration and labeling of products, among other things.

City officials were worried that marijuana operations would spring up in the interim.

Unlike a previous moratorium, which would have been retroactive to July, the council action affects medical marijuana operations, excluding small-scale caregivers, going forward. That will allow a handful of businesses seeking permits from the city to proceed with their plans. And the moratorium will end in phases.

From Oct. 1 to Dec. 13, the city will no longer process applications for medical marijuana testing, manufacturing and retail operations. Some caregivers have found ways around state rules by creating growing co-ops in large warehouses and opening de facto retail operations and cycling their fifth patient – repeatedly swapping out short-term patients to get around the five-patients-at-a-time limit.

The moratorium on medical marijuana grow facilities will last until Feb. 1. Caregivers who grow for five patients out of their own homes are not affected.

The amendment to the original moratorium, which was retroactive and six months in duration, was offered by City Councilor Kim Cook. She suggested that she reviewed the applications that would have been affected by a retroactive moratorium and determined they were following safety rules and were appropriately located.

“There wasn’t an emergency where I could see to apply that,” Cook said.

Cook’s amendment, which passed 8-0 with Councilor Spencer Thibodeau recusing himself, was supported by an attorney representing three of the four businesses that would have been affected. One business previously said it had invested half-a-million dollars into its processing and testing facility.

“It’s a forward-looking moratorium that will give you some time to put some thoughtful and reasonable regulations in place, but also will not harm applicants that have invested significant resources,” said Hannah King, an attorney at Dummond Woodsum.

Meanwhile, Jeff Levine, the city’s planning and urban development director, previewed the city’s approach to zoning for new marijuana businesses.

Levine said the city will largely follow zoning rules established in 2010 for medical marijuana providers. He said such ventures would be subject to either a site plan review or conditional use.

Staff will likely recommend that marijuana retail sales be a stand-alone venture, rather than an accessory venture to an existing business, he said.

Levine said limits would also be put in place based on the zone. For example, larger marijuana operations would be allowed in heavy industrial zones, but tighter limits would be placed on light industrial zones. He said staff will likely recommend that unregistered caregivers would be considered a home-based business, and rules would be added to ensure they remain that way.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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