Portland Daily Sun
City nixes pot dispensary moratorium
By Curtis Robinson
The city's marijuana dispensary debate echoed through City Hall last night, achieving a unanimous vote of confidence as councilors voted 9-0 against a six-month moratorium being advocated by the city's attorney.
Next stop: The planning commission.
Green Independent Councilor Dave Marshall led opposition to the moratorium, which had been suggested by the city attorney who cited vague state laws as a potential problem.
Instead, Marshall introduced a plan to clarify city zoning to expressly include the dispensaries.
"We've been waiting seven months for action," Marshall argued against the moratorium. "My hope is that the planning board will get a recommendation out to allow zoning changes by July 17," he said.
Since the 1990s, Mainers suffering from certain conditions have been able to purchase medical marijuana from "caregivers," who are licensed by the state to cultivate the herb for medical use. The law legalized the drug for medical use, but did not allow for any type of distribution system.
Last year, voters returned to the polls and directed the state to form a dispensary system. Maine, already one of 13 states legalizing medical marijuana, became only the third to mandate a dispensary system. About 75 percent of Portland voters supported "Question 5" that created dispensaries.
"We didn't imagine it would take 10 years ... when we passed a law without access," said Charles Wynott from Westbrook, who is a marijuana-growing caregiver as well as a patient.
Under last November's voter directive, Maine's Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to select the operators of the state's first eight dispensaries by July 9.
The not-for-profit suppliers could open shop within weeks of licensing, depending on how quickly they could grow and process the drug and set up the security and tracking systems required by the state. But some communities, including South Portland, have imposed moratoriums, arguing they need time to create appropriate regulations for the facilities.
The eight dispensaries will be in different regions throughout the state. Cumberland and York counties will be limited to a dispensary each in the program's first year.
While some law enforcement officials and groups have opposed medical marijuana, Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion has emerged as a supporter of dispensing medical marijuana, saying a dispensary system would make his own job easier.
"It's done in the light of day, so a dispensary gives us the opportunity to publicly regulate this," said Dion. "Anything that brings it into the mainstream medical practice will make it easier to regulate," he said.
Dion said there is little evidence that dispensary systems foster criminal behavior, citing California's dispensary system, enacted in 2003 after the passing of Senate Bill 420. "The data from California suggests that the risk of crime outside a dispensary is no greater than what we'd experience at a bank. So I think we should just move forward and exercise the common sense that the voters have demonstrated in repeated votes on this measure," said Dion.