Biddeford’s Policy Committee will review a proposal to license marijuana establishments and report back to the City Council. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald Photo

BIDDEFORD — A plan to require licensing for various marijuana establishments will be examined by the city’s Policy Committee after city councilors raised questions about regulating odor issues and some wondered whether licensing is necessary.

The proposal, as it stands as of the Feb. 2 City Council meeting, would require caregiver retail stores, cultivation facilities, and marijuana products manufacturing facilities to be licensed.

Currently, Biddeford’s four establishments operate under conditional use permits from the Planning Board, Codes Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau said, and three of them have different conditions as it pertains to odor issues. One establishment’s conditional use does not require verification of odor complaints, another does, and a third has other requirements, he said.

The proposal would require that a licensee that receives more than three verified complaints in a calendar year could have its license suspended; a failure to remedy the situation could result in a license revocation by the City Council. Companies wishing to appeal a decision would do so in Superior Court.

Attorneys representing some existing Biddeford marijuana establishments expressed reservations about the proposed odor regulations.

Jill Polster, representing Stoner and Co., said the “three strikes you’re out” clause was causing great concern.

“There’s already a nuisance ordinance in place and a very high level of performance standards, and between those two things (there) should be enough ammunition for the town to address odor,” she said, adding the company she presents takes odor issues seriously.

“Having a set number of odor complaints triggers an inspection — that is ripe for abuse,” said Hannah King, representing Curaleaf Maine and Maine Organic Therapy. The proposed ordinance specifies that complaints would be verified, but she said, the language itself is vague. A suspension assumes growers would need to cease operations, which could lead to layoffs and bankruptcies, said King. She said the marijuana plants are worth “millions of dollars” in some instances.

Council President John McCurry pointed out the proposal calls for those cited to come before the council, “it’s not just pull (the license),” he said. “I’m glad no one was complaining about the fees, maybe they were too low.”

Under the proposal, marijuana caregiver retail stores would pay a $500 annual fee, cultivation facilities of less than 20,000 square feet of floor area, $1,500 annually; cultivation facilities greater than 20,000 square feet of floor area, $3,000 annually; and $250 annually for marijuana products manufacturing facilities.

“Before we put another layer of regulation for a business there needs to be a clear purpose, some clear local purpose,” said Councilor Norman Belanger. “The only purpose I see is odor. … let’s deal with odor mitigation standards; I don’t think we need a licensure process at all.”

He said the proposal on the agenda was sent to the council on Friday (Jan. 29), amended over the weekend and again just before the Tuesday, Feb. 2 meeting. He said the proposal doesn’t address how penalties are imposed, among other factors. If the council decides to take up the proposal “this needs far more work and time to get it right,” Belanger said.

“There is already a process in place,” Councilor Amy Clearwater said, in part, referring to the current process whereby the CEO can refer complaints to the Planning Board.

“I’m having a difficult time understanding why this debate on wanting to have licensing for this use within the city (is happening),” said Councilor Marc Lessard. “A few of us lived through MERC, and I remember dealing with them for six or seven years on odor complaints and there was always the ‘we’re going to fix it.'” Lessard said he still recalls a presentation on planting lilacs and other fragrant plantings to mask the odor.

Mayor Alan Casavant said the city is still receiving information about odor issues on Hill Street, “and it’s not going away.”

“And with the history of MERC, we don’t want an industry producing odor and affecting abutters,” said Casavant.

Complaints about odor emitted from the trash incinerator located near the city’s downtown continued throughout its existence.

McCurry said he remembers the days when the  incinerator produced odor and promises were made to deal with it,  but agreed with those who said the proposal undeer discussion has language issues.

“This is one reason we have a Policy Committee,” said Councilor Michael Ready.

“I still believe we’re using a cannon to kill a small animal,” Belanger said, advocating for clear conditional uses with a mechanism to deal with issues, rather than licensure.

“I understand the concerns and I don’t want the city to smell,” said Councilor Doris Ortiz, but she noted distilleries and breweries aren’t licensed. “I feel like we’re picking on one type of business,” she said. Ortiz said the matter should go to the Policy Committee or wait for all nine councilors to be present — Stephen St, Cyr and Robert Quattrone were absent on Feb. 2.

The city licenses a number of entities, from concerts to circuses, skating rinks, billiard rooms, bowling lanes, automobile graveyards, antique dealers, flea markets, taxis, victualers — including those that sell alcohol and those that don’t, ice cream trucks, and an array of others.

In the end, the council voted to send the matter to the Policy Committee, which will examine the matter and forward a recommendation  to the City Council.

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