PORTLAND — A month after receiving applications for the first marijuana stores in the city, officials are still debating how licenses will be awarded.

The City Council is expected to decide Oct. 19 whether to eliminate or revise its licensing awards system. The first marijuana retail licenses elsewhere in the state were issued earlier this month and those businesses can begin operating Oct. 9.

Councilors decided in May to cap the number of marijuana stores in the city at 20 and award licenses based on how applicants fare on a scoring matrix. However, Wellness Connections, which operates a medical marijuana dispensary in the city and is owned by a Delaware company, sued the city. It argued the matrix gives an unfair advantage because it awards points to business owners who are Maine residents or who hold other state or local business licenses.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the case. Until the case is decided, the city cannot award licenses based on the scoring system.

Under the system, there are between 23 and 27 qualified applicants, Associate Corporation Counsel Anne Torregrossa said Monday. After reviewing 43 applications, a dozen were disqualified because they didn’t properly meet the standards, the qualifications of another three are being reviewed and as many as five others may also be disqualified because their locations are too close together.

In order to avoid future litigation, city staff has laid out four options for councilors to consider: eliminate the matrix components Wellness Connection is fighting; eliminate the matrix and award licenses by a lottery; increase the allowable cap and reduce distance requirements; or revisit the matrix and award licenses in another fashion.

City Councilor Belinda Ray said she does not favor amending the matrix or using a lottery system, and instead suggests raising the cap on stores to 30 and decreasing distance requirements.

Councilor Tae Chong said he doesn’t want to “dismantle the matrix because it is a disservice to all the work people have done,”  but he could support eliminating the two matrix elements in question, something Councilor Nick Mavodones stands behind.

Mayor Kate Snyder said she could support removing the two matrix components or eliminating the matrix for a lottery.  Councilor Justin Costa favors cutting the components or raising the cap while lowering distance requirements.

Whatever is done, Costa said, needs to be decided soon.

“My concern is we do something to finalize this to allow businesses to begin opening,” he said.


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