HALLOWELL — “I think it’s the tackiest license I’ve ever seen.”

That was the opinion of Catherine Lewis, owner of Homegrown the Offering, a little less than a week after she received a license to sell medical marijuana in Hallowell. After two weeks of waiting, she was issued a license – with an asterisk.

The license states that Lewis has complied with all requirements of law to operate as a medical marijuana retail store but notes that she did not win a Dec. 10 lottery and that the license is “provisionally granted and expressly subject to the City Council’s decision denying the license application of successful lottery winner, Derek Wilson … becoming final.”

“I’ve never seen a license that has another person’s name or business (on it),” Lewis said.

Wilson, who had been operating the Cannabis Healing Center for two years in Hallowell, was one of two people who won a lottery for a license to sell medical marijuana downtown. He was denied a license, however, when he wasn’t present at a meeting to answer questions from councilors about why he left a 25-year-old misdemeanor charge off his application.

Lewis, president of the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine Trade Association board of directors, said the license leaves her “uncertain” as to its permanence.

City Solicitor Amy Tchao said the clause was added to the license in the case of a successful appeal from Wilson.

Wilson told the Kennebec Journal that he could not appeal the city’s decision because he does not have enough money to do so. He said he has not spoken to his former attorney, Ed Bearor, since his last appearance in front of the City Council on Jan. 14.

The license delay – and provisional status for Lewis – is the latest controversy in a months-long process for cannabis businesses in downtown Hallowell.

Turbulence began with a Dec. 10, 2018, lottery for downtown medical marijuana retail stores. Wilson and Allison Michaud, who will operate the Frost Factory at 144 Water St., won first priority in that lottery, leaving Lewis on the periphery. After a criminal background check on all three, city councilors asked why Wilson and Michaud had not included all criminal convictions on their applications.

At a Jan. 7 City Council meeting, Michaud explained her six convictions. Wilson was not present to address councilors about his one conviction. As a result, councilors denied Wilson a license and approved Michaud, citing her “good moral character” for showing up, and saying they could not judge Wilson’s character because he was not at the meeting. Minutes later, the council awarded a license to Lewis.

An executive session Jan. 11 led to a public hearing scheduled for Jan. 14 so councilors could speak with Wilson. At the hearing, Wilson said he didn’t think his presence was needed at the Jan. 7 meeting after speaking with City Manager Nate Rudy. Rudy denied having given Wilson that impression. Councilors did not reverse their decision. On Monday, Rudy said licenses were mailed on Jan. 22 to Cold Brook Cannabis operator Jerrod Desjardins and Lewis. Michaud has not been issued a license yet because her space is not ready to open.

LICENSING PROCESS CRITICIZED

While she was grateful to have a license to operate her store in Hallowell, Lewis leveled further criticism at the licensing process. The provision included with her license, she said, could have been sent in a memo, adding that it makes the license difficult to present in a frame at her store.

“It just was an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved,” Lewis said. “I think the other two applicants’ information was publicly put out there; and the way it was handled, it didn’t have to be like that.

“I do understand it’s a new process for everybody and there was no guidance to go by,” she added, “but I would think their attorney would know better (than) to write that (provision) on the license.”

Tchao said the provision on the license probably would be lifted once it is known that Wilson would not file an appeal. She said the council would decide whether Lewis’ $250 application fee would be refunded in the event of a successful appeal by Wilson.

After reviewing the license, Portland attorney Tim Zerillo said Thursday the provisional license was “extremely liquid.”

“This is extremely unfortunate for the provisional license holder because it gives her no security,” he said.

Zerillo told the Kennebec Journal in early January that the city should have waited for an appeal from Wilson before awarding the second license, instead of immediately awarding it to Lewis. He echoed the same sentiment Thursday.

“Essentially, it gives Mr. Wilson the ability to fight on for this license,” Zerillo said. “This is the very reason why I did not understand the (city) awarding a provisional license to begin with.

“It seems to me that the (city) should have held off on issuing the provisional license until Mr. Wilson’s rights had expired,” he added. “Now, they are in a pickle if their decision is reversed as to Mr. Wilson, because Ms. Lewis will undoubtedly have expended a great deal of effort, energy and resources into her own business.”

Lewis said she called City Hall almost every day since Jan. 14 to see when she could pick up her license to sell medical marijuana. She said the city staff told her they were waiting for final approval from legal counsel before issuing licenses.

When asked Friday if the city had a section of the ordinance that allowed a provisional license, Rudy said councilors and Tchao had interpreted the city’s ordinance correctly throughout the licensing process.

“From my perspective, this is all pretty straightforward,” he said.

When asked to identify sections of the ordinance that allowed provisional licensing, Rudy referred the question to Tchao. She did not respond to requests for comment on the question.

All seven city councilors and Mayor Mark Walker were contacted Thursday and asked to identify the section of the ordinance – which passed through three council readings before approval – and none replied by Friday.

BUSINESS UPDATES

The answering machine at the now-closed Cannabis Healing Center prompts callers to call a different number to schedule a delivery. Wilson said he is in talks with area towns about opening a new shop.

“It’s just crazy,” he said Wednesday. “I have not met one single … soul to this day that has agreed with Hallowell.”

While it was slow during her first few days of being licensed, Lewis expects business to pick up after next weekend’s grand opening. Her son, Nick, who manages the store, said he designed the retail space at 109 Water St. to fit with Hallowell’s aesthetic.

“It’s a huge stress reliever that we can sell our whole range of products,” he said, adding that the store previously sold only cannabidiol products.

Michaud previously treated patients at her Monmouth home or by delivery. She said the Water Street location, currently being renovated and expected to open in April, would be more convenient for her and her customers.

Sam Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5666 or at:

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