AUBURN — The City Council on Monday extended a moratorium on medical marijuana caregiver storefronts by 180 days, as city staff laid out a timeline for creating new regulations.

City officials originally passed a 180-day moratorium in May, intending to use the time to come up with zoning laws and ordinances to regulate where such storefronts can operate.

But, Councilor Andrew Titus, who is serving on a city working group on marijuana, said Monday that the group needs more time to complete its ordinance, as the moratorium expires Nov. 27. 

The extended moratorium will be effective until May 2019, but Titus said the group expects the ordinance to be ready for council approval by March, when it would go into effect. 

State regulators passed sweeping new changes to Maine’s medical marijuana caregiver system in July, and Titus said Auburn’s working group was basically on hold until the new state rules were passed. 

One of the major changes now specifically allows for caregiver storefronts, a business model that medical marijuana caregivers had previously adopted by setting up retail storefronts to serve patients, and had sort of operated in a legal gray area. 

Municipalities can also now opt out of the system, but Auburn officials said they did not want to do that, considering the amount of business activity the city had already experienced. 

At least five such storefronts were already operating in Auburn prior to the moratorium, meaning they were grandfathered. Now the city will attempt to answer whether it will limit the number of storefronts it allows in a certain zone, as well as setback limits from schools and other community areas. 

At the initial moratorium hearing in May, dozens of people waited through a two-hour meeting to speak against the moratorium, many concerned that it would cut off medical marijuana patient access.

Advocates and current caregivers say the caregiver storefront model is safer for the caregiver and patient. Instead of meeting up in private homes or in parking lots, a patient can walk into a more legitimate, business-like setting.

No one from the public spoke Monday. 

At least one councilor, Leroy Walker, questioned why the process to draft a local ordinance was taking so long, especially as the state has already completed its own guidelines.

“I’ve got people asking me,” he said, adding that the city is “making people feel like they can’t” operate a business. 

Titus told him a rough draft of the ordinance is “close to being finished,” but Walker responded, “Does it take 180 days to get there?” 

The timeline shared by a city memo said the working group hopes to have the ordinance finalized in December, when it will go to the Planning Board. In February, the working group will present the ordinance to the full City Council, which will take a final vote in March. 

“A lot of questions had to be answered,” Titus said. 

He said the working group studied Colorado, where he said there have “been a lot of pitfalls … some wished it never happened.” 

City Manager Peter Crichton defended the working group, saying that since May it has “been working with one arm tied behind its back.”

“Some municipalities have been looking at what we’re doing, because we’ve been ahead of the process,” he said. 

Phil Crowell, assistant city manager and former police chief, said the current moratorium only impacts caregiver storefronts. He said Auburn has more than 50 cultivation sites in operation. 

The final vote on extending the moratorium was 6-1, with Walker opposed. 

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