Larry McWilliams and Pam Dunnam, co-owners of PotLuck Joint Relief, a medical marijuana store in Westbrook, say they want to keep their cannabis business medical, but want looser restrictions. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK— With what they describe as a changing attitude toward the recreational use of marijuana and a relatively new City Council membership, two councilors have suggested the city reconsider its ban on recreational pot stores.

The mayor and the city administrator, however, are not sure residents are up for a repeal.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana establishments in the city have hit a plateau and would like to see more flexibility for their existing industry.

While recreational marijuana stores opened for business elsewhere in the state last week, two city councilors would like renewed discussions on allowing recreational stores in Westbrook.

Westbrook voters in 2016 approved legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, 5,502 to 4,313, but the council in 2018 unanimously prohibited its sale in the city. Medical marijuana stores are allowed to sell products with restrictions on advertising and location.

Ward 5 City Councilor Eliot Storey last month said the city’s prohibition on recreational marijuana retailers can be changed.

“We will be left behind in that growing market, no pun intended,” Storey said. “We have several successful medical dispensaries in the city, and you would hardly know they are there. If we can coexist with that, we can make recreational happen as well.”

The city has some 20 grow facilities and a number of medical marijuana stores operated by people licensed to grow and provide medical cannabis, including PotLuck Joint Relief, Stroudwater General and Green Approach, according to Director of Planning Jennie Franscheschi.

Ward 1 Councilor David Morse said that since the council’s unanimous ban on recreational pot sales in 2018, the city has elected four new councilors and a new mayor and the general attitude toward pot as a legal substance has evolved.

“Even if we don’t repeal it, I think that with retail sales finally becoming reality it deserves reconsideration and hearing from the public,” Morse said. “In 2016, Westbrook voted in favor of legalization by a wide margin, so I have to assume there is significant interest in it, and I would like to hear from constituents on this issue.”

City Administrator Jerre Bryant and Mayor Mike Foley, while not denying the possibililty of a repeal conversation, noted that the community has not requested such discussions and that the 2018 ordinances were based on community input.

“I have … in fact heard from residents that are glad that we do not have that in Westbrook,” Foley said in an email interview.

The only feedback on marijuana sales he’s heard, Foley said, is from “medical providers requesting some changes to the zoning standards to allow for more flexibility.”

PotLuck, a storefront ran by Pam Dunnam and Councilor Larry McWilliams, grows and sells medical marijuana at WHERE? The two owners employ three full time employees are looking to hire more. Chance Viles / American Journal

PotLuck Joint Relief co-owners Pam Dunnam and Larry McWilliams, who is an alternate member of the Planning Board, have no plans to expand their medical marijuana business into the recreational retail arena, but they do want more flexibility with their existing business signage.

“If we could put up a sign, I think that could easily double business. We are entirely word of mouth. It would huge if people could know where we are,” McWilliams said.

He’s comfortable with his Main Street business, he said, but additional sales would be a plus and he’d like to add more employees to his full-time staff of three.

The store cannot put signs up closer to the road under city rules, he said, because the business name contains a reference to marijuana.

Other businesses, like Green Approach off Lincoln Street, are tucked away, further away from main travel routes.

McWilliams said his store has 700 medical marijuana customers, a large number of whom are older or have disabilities, which can pose a problem for them to frequent other medical providers further from public transit or accessible areas due to ordinances.

“There are a lot of common sense issues that come from dated ideas, but people view it differently now. It is a professional business and people are starting to see that,” McWilliams said.

He advocates for looser restrictions statewide.

Applications in Westbrook for medical cannabis businesses have plateaued, Franscheschi said, with only two submitted to the Planning Board for Medical Marijuana Caregiver Growing facilities, both in the same unit, since the city enacted its medical marijuana ordinance.

“The substantive number of calls that we were getting initially on this industry back in 2015-16 have tapered off significantly,” she said. “We don’t get many calls now. I’m assuming at some point regional saturation has to play a role in how many businesses are viable. ”

McWilliams, however, said loosening restrictions are not about bringing in new businesses but helping existing ones.

“Overall, we have had a great response from the city, and feelings may have changed over a few years. We have good relations with the police and other businesses and want to be more in the community,” he said.

Potluck co-owners Pam Dunnam and Larry McWilliams say their medical marijuana business serves about 700 patients regularly across all demographics. Chance Viles / American Journal

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