Westbrook Council discusses retail marijuana moratorium extension


WESTBROOK – The City Council discussed extending a moratorium on adult use of marijuana, retail establishments and social clubs until Sept. 27, 2018. The moratorium would give the Council and city staff more time to figure out how to regulate the sale of retail marijuana locally. A final vote on whether to extend the moratorium is set for Monday, March 19.

The moratorium has been extended several times already since it was put in place originally Nov. 7, 2016. On Nov. 8, 2016, at a statewide election, voters approved a measure to allow adults at least 21-years-old to possess and grow a small amount of marijuana and permit licensed businesses to harvest, manufacture and sell marijuana based on state, and local restrictions.

In January, the City Council held a workshop on the topic. Based on feedback from that meeting, city staff began drafting an ordinance that would prohibit all retail marijuana uses in the city. According to a Feb. 22 memo from¬†Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Jennie Franceschi, staff members are “pulling together ordinances from various municipalities to move forward to the Planning Board this spring and ultimately to provide a recommendation to the City Council” within the next six months.

The Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation is working to draft a series of recommendations at the state level and held their most recent work session on the topic on Friday, February 23. The recommendations, once finalized, would have to be approved by the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage.

While the Westbrook Council pushed the pause button on retail marijuana businesses regulation, they repealed the moratorium on medical marijuana regulations that were implemented June 19, 2017 and extended on Oct. 16, 2017. The medical-marijuana moratorium was scheduled to sunset April 14.

Franceschi said the moratorium on medical marijuana is no longer needed because a series of medical marijuana restrictions have been rolled into the city’s land use ordinance.

“In February the council had its second, and final hearing on the medical marijuana that we have as part of our ordinance. It is now incorporated into the document. The reason for the repeal is (the moratorium) was only for the time period we had a lack of standards and definitions,” she told councilors at Monday’s meeting. “So at this time we have the ordinance in effect, the moratorium is no longer necessary.”

The zoning ordinance defines medical marijuana as “marijuana that is acquired, possessed, cultivated, manufactured, used, delivered, transferred or transported to treat or alleviate a qualifying patient’s debilitating medical condition as defined by State law or symptoms associated with the qualifying patient’s debilitating medical condition.”

Per the ordinance, medical marijuana cultivation is permitted in Industrial Park Districts, which covers sections of Warren Avenue, County Road and Spring Street. Medical marijuana dispensaries are permitted in the Gateway Commercial District. Furthermore, medical marijuana uses in those areas of town must be at least 500 feet away from any daycare, place of worship, school, library, residence, athletic field, park, halfway house or substance abuse rehabilitation treatment center. The zoning ordinance also stipulates such a business cannot use the word marijuana or image of a marijuana plant on exterior signage and can only be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Additionally outlined in the ordinance are a series of security measures and performance standards that businesses must undertake, such as odor control and disposal plan.

The ordinance states each medical marijuana cultivator may only operate one facility in the city, which can be no more than 3,000-square-feet. The ordinance allows for only one medical marijuana dispensary to operate in the city, although per state law only one dispensary can be set up in each of the state’s health care districts. There is already a dispensary in Westbrook’s district, Wellness Connection at 685 Congress Street in Portland.¬†

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@theforecaster.net.