JAR Cannabis Co. received approval from the South Portland City Council for an adult use marijuana retail store establishment license on July 7. As of July 13, the city has approved five adult use marijuana establishments and seven medical marijuana establishments for licensing. Courtesy photo of Joel Pepin

SOUTH PORTLAND — There have been 23 medical and adult use marijuana retail establishment applications seeking approval for land use in South Portland, an attractive city for those in the cannabis industry.

The city council approved two medical use marijuana retail establishment licenses and one adult use marijuana retail establishment license on July 7. One application for an adult use license was tabled until July 16, as there was uncertainty about the facility’s location and its proximity to a church.

South Portland is a city many in the cannabis industry has had eyes on, said Joel Pepin, co-owner of JAR Cannabis Co., a locally owned cultivation and retail establishment with locations in Windham and Newry.

The city council approved JAR Cannabis Co.’s application for an adult use only marijuana retail establishment at 740 Broadway.

“I was attracted to the professionalism of South Portland and the way they were thinking of the industry,” Pepin said.

Joel Pepin is the co-founder of JAR Cannabis Co, that received licensing approval for an adult use marijuana retail establishment in South Portland. Pepin said that local customers can expect a remodeled,, comfortable atmosphere and will be greeted by professional and knowledgeable staff members. Courtesy photo of Joel Pepin

The city’s ordinance is straightforward and makes restrictions clear, he said. Even before an application begins, code enforcement will examine a proposed property to determine if it fits the city’s requirements.

Through the past couple of years, he’s seen the stigma of the cannabis industry change.

The Windham location’s customers have been respectful and follow all of the business’s rules, Pepin said.

“I think a year or two ago, the average onlooker might think that you go in, and it’s sort of shady,” he said. “I think for the average person, it’s very much a professionally run, highly-regulated business structure, where even becoming operable in the first place takes months of applications for approval. It’s very much like any other professional retail setting.”

City Clerk Emily Scully said that as of July 7, there were a total of 23 establishments, adult use or medical, in the process of seeking or having received land use approval.

Councilor April Caricchio said that she is in support of capping the number of permitted marijuana retail establishments.

In agreement was Councilor Deqa Dhalac, who said she was concerned about marijuana establishments popping up on every corner and setting an example for children.

“We talked about it, comparing it with the liquor licensing, and now we have 23, and the sky’s the limit,” she said.

The city has tried to prevent “hundreds and hundreds” of marijuana establishments from popping up, said Mayor Katherine Lewis, adding that discussion about a cap should happen at some point.

The brief capping discussion did not impede any of the establishments presented at the meeting from receiving approval.

When discussing the approval of medical marijuana retail establishment Pharmers Market Caregivers, expected to open at 200 Gorham Road, Councilor Misha Pride said he saw no problem in the approval now that it was legal.

“The residents of South Portland supported having these businesses here, and they’re going through the process and it’s a very expensive process,” he said. “This one ticked off all the boxes and I don’t see any reason not to approve them.”

The cannabis industry is doing well under the pressures of COVID-19, Pepin said. JAR Cannabis Co. has switched to online ordering and pickup, limiting the number of people inside of the Windham and Newry locations.

“I can tell you through the pandemic, there are a lot of businesses who’ve been hurt and for the cannabis business in Maine, medically speaking, the industry hasn’t missed a beat,” he said. “Even in the beginning, when everything was shut down, we were still hiring for cultivation roles. I think the biggest challenge will be keeping up with the demand in the next six to 12 months.”

In February of 2019, Maine established the Office of Marijuana Policy, which is currently engaged in licensing adult use marijuana establishments through the process required by the Marijuana Legalization Act and program rule, according to the state of Maine’s website.

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