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Council, planning board to hold medical marijuana workshop

HOULTON, Maine –Town councilors will gather with the planning board on Monday, May 6, to determine whether actions or revisions are needed to the current medical marijuana ordinance to keep pace with new state regulations.

The meeting comes nearly a month after councilors opted not to place a referendum question before voters to decide whether or not to allow medical marijuana retail stores or manufacturing facilities to operate in town. The issue of whether to allow such establishments has been festering for months.

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 Houlton’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 state law.

Under the law, the default position is that such operations are not allowed unless the municipality votes to “opt in” or allow registered caregiver retail stores, registered dispensaries, testing facilities and manufacturing facilities in town.

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.

The majority of councilors said last month that they were in favor of taking action on the opt in-opt out matter themselves. Only Councilor Sue Tortello argued strongly that the question be sent to the voters. Councilor William McCluskey, who operates a medical marijuana growing operation in Houlton, abstained.

The councilors ultimately pushed for a workshop to be held so that they could gather more information.

In Houlton Thursday, Sarah Hagan of Houlton said she was “disappointed” that the matter was not put before the voters.

“I think this is a very highly charged issue from what I am seeing on social media,” she said. “It is too big of a decision to leave in the hands of the councilors, some of whom seem to have a personal stake in the matter or they are letting their religious views get in the way. That isn’t right.”

Resident Karen McDonald agreed.

“To me, it is ridiculous that this is being left in the hands of the councilors, who are predominantly older citizens,” she said. “Younger people have different views on marijuana in general, and certainly on medical marijuana. This needs to go out to referendum.”

But Harvey Dhuy, another Houlton resident, disagreed.

“I think that if people need marijuana for pain, I am fine with that,” he said. “It is between the patient and their doctor. [But] I am not in favor of these dispensaries. And I am fine with it being decided by the council.”

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