The Portland City Council voted 6-3 Monday night against a last-minute attempt to fast-track an emergency moratorium on retail marijuana establishments, postponing a decision on the proposal one day before Mainers go to the polls to vote on legalizing the drug.

Councilors were concerned that any emergency action could influence the vote. Instead, they will take up the proposed moratorium in two weeks.

“I will vote for this in two weeks,” Councilor Jill Duson said.

Councilors generally favored a six-month moratorium that would be retroactive to Election Day, but they were concerned about doing so without public notice and only one day before the election.

“I think it is a rational question for people to ask why this is coming up in this way,” Councilor Justin Costa said. “I don’t think the confusion needs to be there.”

Councilors Nicholas Mavdones, Edward Suslovic and Belinda Ray voted in favor of the emergency measure.

City Attorney Danielle West-Chuhta was concerned that a 2011 law limiting a municipality’s ability to revoke a business license through a retroactive moratorium and regulation could allow a marijuana retail store to gain a foothold in the community, forcing the city into a court battle.

“This is a very conservative approach,” West-Chutha said. “It’s based on waking up in the middle of the night thinking these things through.”

The moratorium was unanimously added to the agenda, but didn’t get the seven votes needed to waive the first reading and allow final action as an emergency measure.

Monday was the first time a moratorium concerning recreational marijuana had been brought up in Maine’s largest city, which was the first city on the East Coast where citizens voted in support of legalizing recreational marijuana.

Councilors and some members of the public were puzzled that the moratorium was proposed with little public notice and public process. The state has nine months to develop rules for marijuana retail stores and municipalities can restrict their location or prohibit them altogether.

“I’m completely bewildered by this moratorium,” Bracket Street resident Joey Brunelle said. “I don’t think anyone would say this is how good government should work.”

Communities throughout Maine are enacting moratoriums ahead of a statewide vote to legalize recreation use of marijuana for adults, age 21 and over. Westbrook approved a moratorium on retail marijuana facilities Monday night and Saco, Gray, Brewer and Bangor are considering similar actions.

The citizen initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot allows municipalities to regulate – or prohibit – marijuana retail establishments, such as stores, cultivation facilities, testing facilities and social clubs where marijuana can be consumed.

The council will take up the moratorium in two weeks. If passed, the city will consider where – if at all Ray, who co-sponsored the moratorium, said city staff is concerned about being able to regulate the industry retroactively.

“I don’t think this is an anti legalization moratorium,” Ray said. “It’s just to make sure we have the rules established. There might be neighborhood concerns. We want to make sure if someone is going to be investing into a business that they’re not told six months from now you can’t have that business there.”

In 2013, Portland became the first city on the East Coast to legalize marijuana for recreational use. It was a largely symbolic gesture, however, since Portland police have continued to enforce state marijuana laws, which allow only medicinal use. And the 2013 initiative did not allow retail stores.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.