South Portland Mayor Claude Morgan voices opposition to a proposed stricter marijuana ordinance at the July 23 City Council Meeting. (Courtesy image)

SOUTH PORTLAND — A proposed ordinance to halt the growing number of marijuana storefronts in South Portland was voted down by the city council.

The ordinance would have standardized distances between marijuana businesses and sensitive uses — such as places of worship, daycare centers, and community centers — to 1,000 feet.

Currently, distances are standardized at 300 feet, except for schools, which are standardized by the state of Maine at 1,000 feet.

South Portland Director of Planning and Approval, Tex Hauser, said the 300-foot distance ordinance was chosen out of intent to limit marijuana businesses to one per plaza.

“I looked at the Mill Creek shopping center, and I thought, ‘What would be the distance to make sure we only get one, and not a cluster of three?’ 300 feet seemed to be the right distance,” Hauser said.

The proposed ordinance would have affected marijuana businesses seeking approval for commercial adult-us (recreational) marijuana permits, including those businesses already approved for medical sales and planning to switch to recreational sales.

At the July 9 council meeting, councilors held a workshop to develop a stricter marijuana ordinance. Councilor Susan Henderson voiced concern about the city’s influx of commercial marijuana permit applicants.

“I feel this is too much marijuana for our city,” Henderson wrote in a request to workshop the ordinance.

At the time of the July 23 meeting, two medical marijuana recreational marijuana stores, Sea Weed Co. And 27 Ocean St., held approved permits. One recreational marijuana store, Maine Organic Therapy, was awaiting permit approval. Since the meeting, another recreational store, Theory of Wellness, has applied for a permit.

Four medical marijuana establishments, Beach Boys Cannabis, Grass Monkey Medical Storefront, 200 Gorham Road Inc., and Dirigo Naturals, hold permits. Three were pending approval at the time of the meeting.

The ordinance would have precluded stores, pending commercial marijuana permits, from approval if their location was less than 1,000 feet from a sensitive use or another marijuana entity. The ordinance also would have prevented some medical marijuana stores from switching over to recreational.

“Two entities I represent would be precluded from changing their license from medical marijuana to recreational sales if the new buffers are enacted,” Edward J. Kelleher, attorney at Drummond Woodsum, said. Kelleher said the clients are currently waiting for adult-use licenses to become available from the state.

Councilor Misha Pride voiced concern that the proposed ordinance wasn’t fair to new businesses.

“Businesses should be able to rely on the city to some degree as they negotiate their way through the difficult path of getting a license and establishing their business,” Pride said.

Pride also said that he valued honoring the ordinance decisions of the previous council.

Mayor Claude Morgan agreed.

“We took great care and exercised great diligence over a period of two years,” Morgan said. “We heard from a lot of people along the way, learned a lot about the business, and elected to go ahead. It was the will of the people.”

Morgan was opposed to the ordinance’s potential to preclude medical marijuana entities from transitioning to recreational cultivation and sales.

“Several businesses applied for medical marijuana permits from the city under the explicit premise that they would switch over to adult-use marijuana as soon as the state began issuing permits,” Morgan said. “Nobody was hiding the fact that there’d be a flip; folks were upfront.”

Morgan said he saw the ordinance as classic bait and switch. “We have businesses who’ve relied on our rules and guidance we have to follow through.”

The ordinance failed passage, with councilors Beecher and Henderson in favor, and councilors Dahlac, Carrichio, Lewis, Pride, and Mayor Morgan opposed.

Evelyn Waugh can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9026.

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