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Houlton councilors to host another discussion on medical marijuana issue

HOULTON, Maine — Town councilors will hold another public discussion before making a decision on how to address changes to state laws on medical marijuana rules and regulations.

Councilor Sue Tortello brought the matter up at the end of the council meeting on March 11. Tortello noted that in the past, the councilors had considered having voters decide whether or not to allow medical marijuana retail stores or manufacturing facilities in the community.

She said that if the councilors decided to go that route, they would need to make a decision by early April in order to have a measure on the ballot for the June election.

Marijuana has generated significant controversy in the community, and it has been debated heavily by councilors.

The state Legislature last session enacted amendments to Maine’s Medical Marijuana Law that, among other things, remove the cap on how much cannabis can be sold in medical marijuana dispensaries and allow registered marijuana caregivers to open up storefronts to serve their patients who are in the state approved medical marijuana program.

The law also now specifically gives municipalities the right to regulate such marijuana facilities, but the town’s existing ordinances do not provide an adequate mechanism to regulate and control their location and operation.

Houlton councilors voted on Dec. 26, 2018, to establish a 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana retail stores, dispensaries, and testing and manufacturing facilities to give the town time to address the changes in the medical marijuana law.

Tortello, who also serves on the planning board charged with recommending new local regulations, told councilors last month that the board needed the council first needs to decide whether it wants to allow the operation of such marijuana establishments in Houlton.

Under the law, the municipality must vote to “opt in” to the operation of registered caregiver retail stores, registered dispensaries, testing facilities, and manufacturing facilities.

“The default position,” she told councilors, “is that if you do nothing, new uses are prohibited. These establishments won’t be allowed unless we vote as a legislative body to opt in.”

Residents of Houlton already voted in November 2017 to prohibit the sale and growth of recreational marijuana in town. But that vote does not affect medical marijuana growers or dispensaries.

“This is a big issue,” Tortello said. “It has a lot of facets. If we want to do something on this, it is important to get moving forward.”

Council Chair Jane Torres asked the councilors if they wanted a workshop on the matter, but members weren’t receptive to the idea and pushed for an open discussion. Torres noted that the town also could put the issue on the ballot in November or hold a special election to decide the question.

Town Manager Marian Anderson suggested putting the discussion on the March 25 meeting agenda, which councilors approved.

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