Portland lawmakers crafted a proposal Tuesday to give the disadvantaged, those with experience running a highly regulated business and those who own their own shop a leg up in the scramble to win a coveted marijuana retail license in Maine’s biggest city.

The Economic Development and Health and Human Services committees voted to send a marijuana regulation proposal to the City Council that includes a scoring matrix that would determine who gets a retail license. The proposal caps the number of new stores at 20, which could be awarded in rounds.

The unanimous vote nudges the city one step closer to adult-use cannabis sales. City voters approved legalization by a 2-to-1 margin at statewide referendum in 2016, but Portland has been slow to adopt regulations. So far, 32 Maine communities from Auburn to Wilton have opted into the new marketplace.

“You are really lagging behind,” said Andrew Pettingill, a Cumberland caregiver paying rent on empty retail space in Munjoy Hill where he wants to open an adult-use store. “At this point, I would go along with anything you do. It’s at the point that I can no longer keep digging into my own pocket.”

The proposal will now go to the full City Council for review. While most councilors sit on one of the two committees that hashed out the proposal, some who voted in favor of sending the proposal along did so reluctantly, and made it clear they would be proposing changes during the full council’s review.

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. tried to kill a proposal made by Councilor Belinda Ray to reward an applicant who is willing to pay employees $15 an hour, give them paid time off and health benefits and sensitivity training and donate 1 percent of their profits to the city for youth substance abuse prevention.

His effort failed, but it was clear that Mavodones wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it. Councilor Tae Chong complained Ray was creating a scoring process that promoted social justice issues instead of the best business plans. He noted the city didn’t consider social justice issues when awarding short-term rental permits despite decades of institutional prejudice against non-white home buyers and renters.

Ray insisted the proposed scoring matrix awarded points for both business and social justice issues.

“They’re going to have the business plan, the security,” Ray said. “This is just the thumb on the scale.”

Applicants can earn between two and six points in eight different categories for a maximum of 34 total points. Some attributes count more than others. For example, Maine residents of five years get five points; those who can prove they have at least $150,000 in the bank get only two points.

The categories in the proposed scoring matrix and their point values are:

• 6 points: at least 51 percent of business is owned by socially or economically disadvantaged individuals

• 6 points: owner has experience running a highly regulated business, like marijuana or banking

• 5 points: at least 51 percent of business is owned by Mainer of five years or more

• 4 points: applicant has run a state or locally licensed Maine business for at least five years

• 4 points: applicant owns proposed retail location or has leased it for at least five years

• 4 points: applicant agrees to do three of the four: create five full-time jobs paying at least $15 an hour, offer workers paid time off and health benefits; conduct employee sensitivity training; or contribute 1 percent of net profits to the city for youth substance abuse education or prevention.

• 3 points: applicant is a registered medical marijuana caregiver of at least two years

• 2 points: applicant can prove at least $150,000 in liquid assets.

Portland adopted a zoning map showing where marijuana businesses could operate in February 2019, but after almost a year of study and debate the city has yet to decide how many medical and recreational licenses are up for grabs, and how the city would decide who will get one.

The city wants to cap the number of retail stores allowed to sell medical or adult-use marijuana at 20, arguing that allowing more than that would flood the market, drive down marijuana prices and make it likely that stores would fail, which wouldn’t be good for the city or the industry.

If the city caps licenses, two or three medical marijuana retail stores already doing business in the city with explicit permission would be allowed to continue, but others who opened without city approval or who wanted to convert to adult-use retail would have to compete for a license.

That means some of the two dozen medical stores already in operation would probably have to close.

The proposal would establish five licensing categories, including three sizes of grows, two tiers of manufacturing and two types of retail stores: medical and recreational use, also referred to as adult use. License fees range from $250 for a small medical provider to $10,000 for an adult-use retail store.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.