In this Dec. 13, 2017, file photo, a marijuana plant grows under artificial light at an indoor facility in Portland. The City of Biddeford will consider manufacture and other aspects of the adult use marijuana industry in the coming weeks. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File

BIDDEFORD — The City Council has agreed to explore amending  the Biddeford city ordinances to “opt-in” to some aspects of the adult use cannabis industry.

That exploration could include whether the city should “grandfather” existing medical marijuana growers.

At least one medical marijuana grower says it should. Maine Organic Therapy is looking for the city to allow them and other manufacturers who have conditional use permits to expand to adult use while the city goes through the ordinance process.

Attorney Hannah King, who represents Maine Organic Therapy, said the company, which has been in Biddeford since 2010, is in the throes of making a business decision.

“Do we leave and go where we know we can grow, or do we stay in Biddeford,” said King in a phone interview Jan. 22.

The company is one of eight designated as a dispensary in Maine. It grows medical marijuana in Biddeford and has a retail location in Ellsworth. It is planning to expand its growing operation for the adult use market.

It is her understanding that the state will begin issuing adult use licenses for cultivating and manufacturing cannabis for adult use sometime this spring, King said. In her experience, from working with towns that do opt -in, that it takes nine months to a year for the process to play out, she said.

Maine Organic Therapy has proposed an amendment to the city’s land use ordinance that would allow businesses like theirs to expand to include adult use growing of marijuana, provided it has an odor control plan and a sign-off by a professional engineer that the facility’s odor mitigation is considered “best practices” in the industry.

If the city were to adopt the amendment her client proposes, and Biddeford then decides not to fully opt-in, the adult use for those grandfathered would continue, King said.

A number of Maine municipalities, such as Auburn, Portland and South Portland, have opted- in to some aspects of adult use.

Biddeford has taken no action on adult use marijuana. City councilors, at a  June 2019 workshop, indicated at that time they were not interested in taking a stance on the matter, said city Communications Coordinator Danica Lamontagne.

The adult use marijuana matter came up at the Jan. 21 City Council meeting.

“Do we want to stay the course or change things and allow certain entities to expand?” asked Mayor Alan Casavant.

“I’d be willing to look at it,” said Councilor Norman Belanger.

Belanger said he believes grandfathering medical marijuana growers for adult use growing is reasonable.

“I’m on the other side of that fence,” said City Council President John McCurry, opining that grandfathering existing growers would give them an unfair advantage. McCurry added until the odor issues associated with marijuana growing can be fixed, he would not want to see additional growers.

“I am supporting going ahead and looking into this” said Councilor Doris Ortiz. “This industry is changing. They’ll leave if we don’t do something.”

Casavant noted that the amendment proposed by Maine Organic Therapy was just an idea.

Councilor Marc Lessard said he does not favor changing the current ordinance.

“I’ve gone way out on a limb embracing medical marijuana,” said Lessard but he said if the city does opt in, “it should be open to whoever brings the most to the city.”

Councilor Stephen St. Cyr said he is open to having a discussion.

“I don’t know if I would vote for it or against it,” said St Cyr.

“I’m in favor of taking a look at this, and I would say if we open it up, open it to everyone” said Councilor William Emhiser.

Emhiser said he would not support a retail operation.

Councilor Robert Quattrone said he is in favor of looking at the ordinance.

“I think it’s a growing movement (no pun intended), and if we don’t adapt, it just might pass us by,” said Quattrone.

Councilor Michael Ready said he’s happy with the way things are.

The councilors talked briefly about odor management.

City Manager James Bennett said a staff white paper, outlining some options for the council to review and provide direction, could  likely be ready by the council’s second meeting in February.

McCurry said he believes the issue needs public input and that following receipt of the white paper, the matter should go to the policy committee before the City Council acts. The others agreed.

It is unclear how many medical marijuana growers that possess conditional use permits are located in Biddeford. An email routed to Codes Enforcement Director Roby Fecteau late last week resulted in no response.

Maine Organic Therapy currently employs 15 salaried workers at their 5 Drapeau St. address and is projecting to double that number next year, King said.

The amendment sought by the company King represents was not specifically addressed by the City Council during their discussion. King said she is hopeful a councilor will be willing to bring it to the full board.

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