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Council renews medical marijuana moratorium

HOULTON, Maine — Town Councilors on Monday evening renewed the municipality’s medical marijuana moratorium, which will last for the next 180 days.

The move follows a council vote 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.

Marijuana and medical marijuana have been hot button issues for councilors and a number of town residents, as the council has struggled with confusion over parts of the law and how best to balance public safety with any economic benefits from the marijuana industry.

The state Legislature last session enacted amendments to Maine’s medical marijuana law that, among other things, removed the cap on how much cannabis could be sold in medical marijuana dispensaries.

It also allowed registered marijuana caregivers to open up storefronts to serve their patients enrolled in the state-approved medical marijuana program.

The law also 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.

According to the Maine Marijuana Legalization Act passed in 2018, municipalities must “opt in” to allow adult marijuana establishments within their borders.

The law defines a marijuana establishment as a cultivation facility, products manufacturing facility, testing facility or store.

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.

Town councilors opted in April not to place a referendum question before voters to decide whether to allow medical marijuana retail stores or manufacturing facilities to operate in the community.

Councilors have had several questions about the “opt-in/opt-out” section of the law, and met with the planning board on May 6 to determine whether actions or revisions were needed to the current medical marijuana ordinance to keep pace with new state regulations.

They took no action at that meeting.

Medical marijuana is already legal to sell in Maine. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

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