Farmington prepares for possible medical marijuana dispensary

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FARMINGTON — Town officials are looking into the possibility that Farmington could become one of the eight sites in Maine selected for a medical marijuana distribution center.

Last November, Maine voters approved Question 5, which enacted the citizen-initiated bill to establish the Maine Marijuana Act. Under the measure, the state will license up to eight nonprofit organizations to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients with debilitating and chronic conditions; set rules for operating dispensaries; create a statewide registry of patients; and establish fees for patients, caregivers and dispensaries.

Distribution centers would be established within the state’s eight public health districts. Farmington is in Western Maine District 3, which covers Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties.

Town Manager Richard Davis told selectmen Tuesday that the town should develop a policy or amend its zoning ordinance to accommodate a dispensary and potentially, a state-regulated indoor-growing operation, before an application to open a facility is submitted.

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His initial suggestion was to limit a dispensary to the town’s two general purpose zones — the commercial Wilton Road and Farmington Falls Road, also known as Route 2. He also said the developers should be required to submit a permit application to the Planning Board and to comply with any performance standards planners set.

Several selectmen disagreed that special zoning restrictions were needed.

“I disagree with limiting a new business,” Selectman Drew Hufnagel said. “What is the difference between this and (the former) Howard’s Rexall?”

Selectman Jon Bubier asked why the town should put additional regulations on a small business that would be highly regulated by the state.

“It should be allowed anywhere any small business is allowed,” he said. “This will not be a free-for-all drug outlet.”

Farmington police Sgt. Shane Cote said it would be safer to have a dispensary in the downtown area rather than on the outskirts because of the dedicated police presence in the downtown between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. He said that historically, opiate addiction clinics that distribute methadone do not experience crime problems.

Davis said he would revise his proposal to include the selectmen’s direction and would bring it back for further discussion. Any change to the zoning ordinance would require a public hearing and a town vote.

Under the new bill, not-for-profit dispensaries will be licensed and regulated by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, but specific agency procedures and funding are not yet in place, according to the state’s website. A medical advisory committee will be responsible for developing a list of medical conditions that can be treated with marijuana.

According to the state, local governments are preparing for implementation of the law.

Brewer’s city council voted unanimously to ban dispensaries for six months until the state rules and procedures for operating the dispensaries are in place. Auburn, Lewiston, Ellsworth, Portland and South Portland have enacted or plan to enact similar moratoriums. Bangor has begun work on zoning ordinances to accommodate dispensaries.

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