Poland holds hearing on marijuana regulations

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POLAND — Selectmen held a public hearing Tuesday to clarify and discuss what the laws are for regulating medical marijuana.

Selectmen have come under fire for not taking a more aggressive stance in dealing with citizen complaints about a growing operation in town.

The complaints stem from an incident in May, when residents of the Poland Spring Country Estates convinced the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals to revoke Derick Erickson’s after-the-fact permit for a 20-by-60-foot greenhouse that had been used for the cultivation of marijuana in that subdivision.

The Zoning Board found that Erickson was conducting the operation as a business, which was not permitted in the residential zone.

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Subsequently, town officials called upon the town attorney, Natalie Burns, who questioned whether the Zoning Board’s action was proper.

Burns told the board Tuesday that according to Maine’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act, the town is precluded from regulating medical marijuana caregivers.

Residents of Poland Spring Country Estates shared doubts as to whether the town was acting properly by not checking on what Erickson might be up to this growing season. About a dozen attended the hearing.

Garry Robitaille, who identified himself as a medical marijuana caregiver, noted that most caregivers in Androscoggin County — there are about 220 caregivers in the county for 330 patients — conduct small operations and are allowed to cultivate only six plants per patient.

They are regulated by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and must comply with specified screening and security measures, Robitaille said.

Erickson read a number of emails that he said had been sent to Poland’s code enforcement office complaining about his operation and expressed dismay that no one had come to speak directly to him.

Erickson said that he complied with the Zoning Board’s decision, and that he dismantled the greenhouse and enclosed a smaller area with fencing in which he was growing 18 plants solely for members of his immediate family.

Matt Butler of Poland Spring Country Estates confirmed that Erickson’s neighbors could smell the plants, although they couldn’t see them, and were upset that they weren’t sure he was in compliance with DHHS regulations.

“We believe something is going on but we don’t know whether he is doing what he says he is doing,” Butler said.

Town Manager Bradley Plante said he contacted state officials and was told they don’t conduct regular inspections, but they will respond to complaints directed their way.

State Sen. Eric Brakey and state Rep. Ellie Espling attended the hearing at the request of selectmen, so they could witness the difficulties brought on by the regulations. Espling said that change in Augusta is slow, but that she would be taking what she heard with her.

Brakey noted that while marijuana dispensaries are being treated as a business, in the case of marijuana caregivers, gray areas creep in — there being a difference when a person is growing for personal or family use and when growing for the maximum of five patients, at which point it can become more of a business.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Steve Robinson said he hoped people had a better understanding of what the town can and can’t regulate.

Selectman Stanley Tetenman suggested that if it appears that DHHS isn’t responding to complaints people may have about marijuana operations, perhaps they should call their state representatives.

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