LEWISTON — There's a difference between growing medical marijuana for yourself and growing it for other people, city councilors said Tuesday night.
"And I think that given our housing stock, we have a duty to regulate those larger operations," Councilor Mark Cayer said.
Councilors voted 5-0 over the objections of the Maine Civil Liberties Union to approve a pair of ordinances aimed at regulating medical marijuana growing and distributing operations.
Alysia Melnick, public policy counsel for the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said state rules regulating sellers of medical marijuana are more than adequate. They might even be too strict.
"We're already concerned about state regulations," Melnick said. "So now we're doubly concerned about municipalities layering more regulations on groups that are acting in a law-abiding manner."
Voters approved the sale of medical marijuana in November 2009, but the city has since had a moratorium in place. That moratorium, which keeps dispensaries out, is due to expire in January.
Auburn Plaza, across the river on Center Street, will be home to one of eight medical marijuana dispensaries approved by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The dispensary, Remedy Compassion, is tentatively set to open this month. It will be the only one serving the state's Zone 3, which includes Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.
Lewiston's new rules would limit all distributors to industrial, commercial business, office service and urban enterprise zones of the city. It would also keep them away from churches and child care facilities and would mandate background checks for officers, board members and employees.
But state law allows smaller operations, called primary caregivers, virtually anywhere. Those small operations are allowed to grow and dispense medical marijuana for up to five patients with valid prescriptions.
Lewiston's rules still exempt providers growing for themselves or a single patient. They require those providing medical marijuana for two to five patients to get city licenses and to meet certain fire safety, building and code rules.
"The city has legitimate health, safety and welfare concerns," Mayor Larry Gilbert said. "These larger operations will require a large number of grow lights and heating sources that could create a fire hazard — particularly in some of the city's older structures and multi-family residences."
Melnick argued that the rules are not necessary. The state has allowed caregivers to grow medical marijuana for themselves or family members with prescriptions since 1999.
"There are many operations that have been in existence for years across Maine, and certainly some in Lewiston," she said. "I would think that if those problems were likely to occur, they would have already."
Danika Clark said she is a medical marijuana patient who buys from a primary caregiver. Her caregiver has told her he will have to give up his operation under Lewiston's new rules.
"This is forcing people to choose between their homes and providing the medicine they need," Melnick said.
Melnick said the MCLU over the next month would review its options concerning Lewiston's new rules. That could involve suing the city, she said.