The Westbrook City Council will hold off on conversations about reversing its ban on recreational marijuana shops in the city until at least the spring, officials say.

The city plans to draft recreational marijuana ordinances for discussion and a possible council vote, Mayor Mike Foley told councilors earlier this month, but planning and code enforcement departments are too busy now with ongoing projects. The  city lacks the manpower and time to “open a new industry” that would require code enforcement checks and licensing for a potentially large number of applicants, he said.

“We aim to work on it sooner if we can have some gaps in the projects or if we don’t have a ton going on, but right now housing is our focus. Perhaps we can even look at alternatives, another group coming and working on it and the coding for us,” Foley said.

The council unanimously approved a citywide ban on recreational marijuana stores in 2018, but in 2020, Councilor David Morse and former Councilor Elliot Storey said the ban should be reviewed because the makeup of the council had changed.

City voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in a 2016 statewide referendum, 5,502 to 4,313. Medical marijuana stores are allowed in the city, with restrictions on advertising and location.

Once city rules for recreational marijuana businesses are drafted, they will be discussed by the Planning Board and the council, followed by a council vote. A citywide vote is unnecessary to do away with the ban.


The council discussed the reconsideration in May, but Foley said the city is in no rush.

“Since that moment, the planning department has been inundated with building, site plans, subdivisions, zone changes, tax amendments, all types of things, and we have to try and prioritize what’s most important,” Foley said. “I know that the marijuana expansion is important to some.  I view the fact that we have so much going on, that’s stuff that people are supportive of. It wouldn’t make sense to stop that stuff, focus more on something controversial with a potentially divided council.”

Between 20 to 25 medical marijuana businesses operate in the city, including three in residential areas, according to Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Jennie Fransceschi, and while those businesses follow all rules, they keep the city busy.

“We get odor issues, we get calls, nuisance issues with an abutter. When we do get calls, on occasion we do need to make contact with the owner and work on either the odor or something else,” she said. 

More time is needed to work on proposed recreational ordinances, Fransceschi said.

If the city were to introduce rules allowing for recreational pot stores, she said, they have to make sure there are buildings or land to accommodate them. The city needs to ensure industrial areas stay that way, she said, and that marijuana businesses are not taking up space that could go to life science businesses, for example.


Land use is important for Westbrook because the city would only benefit from recreational pot businesses if new, taxable buildings are constructed. If those businesses set up shop in existing buildings the city will see no increase in tax revenue.

“A lot of folks see a huge windfall from approving this. The city doesn’t get the tax revenue associated with marijuana sales. The only thing the city gets is property taxes,” Foley said. “So when Jennie Franceschi talks about the highest and best use for the land, like if they took a building on Main Street better suited to be a multi-story building with residences, those are where we are trying to find the highest and best use.”

Sales figures of recreational pot statewide have consistently increased since the market opened in October 2020, but a big boom came in the dog days of summer of 2021 when statewide sales jumped from $6.5 million in June to $9.4 million in July and $10.2 million in August, according to the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.


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