WINTHROP — The prospect of a retail medical marijuana opening on Route 202 has town councilors considering a temporary hold for other similar businesses.

This week, councilors agreed to draft a moratorium that would temporarily ban any stores that sell medical marijuana to certified patients so the town can have time to create regulations on the number and location of those stores.

While they unanimously voted to start drafting the moratorium, councilors also agreed the man already proposing a medical marijuana store should be allowed to follow through on his plans.

“I’m not a big fan of finding out someone wants to do something and then not liking it, and all of sudden passing an ordinance saying they can’t,” Councilor Andy Wess said at the council meeting Monday night. “Our bad if we didn’t think of this, but we didn’t and we have a legitimate applicant out there. If we want to pass a moratorium, that’s fine, but it should not apply to this applicant.” 

The topic of medical marijuana came up when Code Enforcement Officer Mark Arsenault said Jason Smith wants to open a medical marijuana retail business next to the Off-Price discount store on Route 202. 

Arsenault had thought that business would be blocked under rules the town passed earlier this year, in reaction to the legalization of recreational marijuana by Maine voters in 2016, he told the council. Those rules, which were renewed in September, prevent recreational marijuana shops from opening in Winthrop for six months. They are meant to legally protect the town while state lawmakers draft rules for the sale of adult-use marijuana. 

But after hearing from Smith, Arsenault realized that Winthrop has no similar rules for stores that sell medical marijuana. Earlier this year, the Maine Legislature approved an overhaul of the state’s medical marijuana law that, among other things, cemented the right of marijuana caregivers to open retail stores.

Without new measures, Arsenault warned that Winthrop could become like other nearby towns where multiple medical pot stores have been opening.

“If they come to me tomorrow and want to put one downtown, I have nothing to tell them no,” he said. “As you look at other towns, one becomes two becomes three becomes four.”

Smith was planning to file an application for his business Thursday, Arsenault said in an interview. The code enforcement officer will review the plan and determine whether it could have a low, medium or high impact on the surrounding commercial area. If he decides it will be low, he can approve the permit. If he decides it will be medium or high, he can refer the application to the Planning Board. 

The store probably won’t open before Nov. 1, Arsenault said.

It’s not clear whether Smith has run any similar businesses in the past or what his plans are for the proposed Winthrop shop. 

Last winter, a person named Jason Smith with the same phone number as him did apply to open a medical marijuana store in Lisbon, according to that town’s code enforcement officer, Dennis Douglass. But Douglass said the business didn’t come together after Smith submitted his first application, and that he hasn’t been able to submit another application because Lisbon passed its moratorium on medical marijuana stores. 

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Smith at first declined to speak until next week, citing the fact that he hadn’t received a permit yet. When asked whether he had tried to open the business in Lisbon, he told a reporter, “No.”

A day later, a man answering Smith’s phone said that he was one of Smith’s employees and that a lawyer had advised him against speaking about the project. He didn’t respond to a request for clarification about the Lisbon project and ended the call abruptly.  

At the Winthrop Town Council meeting Monday, at least one councilor, Linda Caprara, said she was concerned about the proximity of his proposed location to the town’s schools. Winthrop High School and Middle School are both about a mile away from the location. 

But councilors also emphasized that Smith will be allowed to file his application. 

After the vote, the Town Council instructed Town Manager Ryan Frost to begin drafting the language for a moratorium, a process that will require multiple meetings and a public hearing. 

Other central Maine communities have approved moratoriums on medical marijuana stores, including Winslow and Augusta. But last month, Richmond voters narrowly rejected such a measure


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