SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council tabled a proposal to tighten restrictions on marijuana licensing Tuesday and refer the proposal to the planning board for more discussion before holding a public hearing and possible further action by the council next month.

The decision came after discussions that lasted more than two hours proved to the council that issues such as the language of a grandfathering clause and definitions of “sensitive use” businesses – such as churches and schools – could not be resolved that evening.

“I have many other points we haven’t even begun to bring up yet,” Mayor Katherine Lewis said.

The council has discussed new changes to the city’s 2017 ordinance governing marijuana businesses, including a cap on the number of licenses, as far back as September, but Tuesday’s meeting was supposed to be the first step in approving the new rules.

The proposed changes, according to a memo to the council from Planning and Development Director Milan Nevajda, do not include a cap but do propose, among other changes, banning licenses in 12 different zoning districts. Included would be the district where the Maine Mall is located and a district located in the south-central part of the city dedicated to industrial businesses.

Councilor Claude Morgan noted some businesses may be in the process of getting permits in those districts, prompting him to add a clause grandfathering those businesses so they won’t lose their chance to get a license just because the rules changed.


“It does not guarantee them a (license), but it does guarantee a level playing field,” Morgan said.

Other councilors agreed in principle, but had difficulty defining how far along in the process applicants could be and still proceed with their applications. That led to multiple motions for amendments and lengthy discussions.

According to documents from the planning office, 16 marijuana-related businesses have already received local approval. Nevajda said this week that there are currently nine different businesses that are at the beginning of the approval process, but based on the discussions Tuesday night, he estimated that the changes so far would include provisions that protected those applicants.

“It does not appear that any of those projects would be negatively impacted in any way by these changes,” he said.

The proposed changes also sought to expand the definition of “sensitive use.” Right now, the ordinance requires marijuana-licensed businesses to be as much as 1,000 feet away from so-called sensitive use locations, including schools, child care facilities, community centers, higher educational facilities, large public outdoor recreational spaces, and houses of worship.

The proposal calls for adding “minor-serving businesses” and “mental or social health services business” to the definition of sensitive use. However, the council had difficulty defining those terms, leading Lewis to comment that there were too many details to work through in one evening before passing the proposed new rules.

“I feel like we’re doing this in a slap-dash way,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094


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