AUGUSTA — The Planning Board voted in favor of proposed new regulations for medical marijuana caregivers operating out of their homes, including a limit of no more than two patients driving to their home-based business per day.

The proposed changes approved in a 5-1 board vote Tuesday also would have to be adopted by the City Council to take effect.

Last month, at the recommendation of a special subcommittee formed to look into both recreational and medical marijuana-related issues, the Augusta City Council imposed a 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana storefront operations and asked the Planning Board to review new zoning rules, to regulate in-home medical marijuana growing and sales by caregivers.

The Planning Board took up that issue Tuesday, holding a public hearing on an amendment to the city land use ordinance that would set rules caregivers would need to follow to grow and sell medical marijuana legally to patients licensed to use medical marijuana, under the city’s home occupation business standards. The standards are meant to allow some low-impact businesses to operate in otherwise residential areas and neighborhoods.

Matt Nazar, city development director, said there are 5,000 medical marijuana caregivers in Maine and though the list of those caregivers and where they are located, which is held by the state, is confidential, he said that surely some of those caregivers are operating in Augusta now, in residential neighborhoods.

He said proposed changes to state law could eliminate a current rule allowing caregivers to only have up to five patients, replacing it instead with a cap on the number of plants they could grow, at 30.

He said the changes, absent location regulations, could result in a caregiver with a fairly busy business, selling medical marijuana to patients, operating out of a home in a residential neighborhood.

The proposed new requirements medical marijuana caregivers would have to meet to grow and sell marijuana legally to patients out of their homes in Augusta would include a maximum of two patient vehicle trips per day, all visits by patients by appointment only, all marijuana cultivation and processing taking place only indoors, securing and locking at all times any portion of the home or other building in which marijuana is cultivated or stored, and using an odor control system to prevent the odor of marijuana from being detectable outside any building where cultivation, processing or storage occurs.

A. Delaine Nye, board member, said she was concerned about the proposed limit on patient visits of two per day, and the requirement they make appointments, in part because she said other home occupation businesses in the city are not limited in the number of customers they may have per day.

“Presumably I have some sort of health problem, if I get medical marijuana,” she said. “If I call my caregiver and he says, ‘You can’t come tomorrow, because I already have two patients booked,’ that sounds punitive, on the patient, to me. A lot of different medical problems are treated with marijuana, and making it difficult for those people, I’d say, is the wrong approach.”

Nye was the lone vote on the board against forwarding the proposed changes, with a recommendation they be approved, back to the City Council for consideration.

Board members discussed limiting the number of hours caregivers could operate in homes. Corey Vose suggested limiting them to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., while Nye said they should be allowed to be open later so, like pharmacies, they could serve patients at night.

Alison Nichols, board member, made the motion to approve the new rules, without adding a limit on their hours because, she said, board members didn’t agree on what those hours should be.

Vose said changes can be made to the ordinance after it is approved.

Nazar said city staff members probably would not actively seek out medical marijuana caregivers to make sure they follow all the proposed new rules, but they would take action if they receive a complaint. He said if a caregiver is growing and selling in a home, without a home occupation permit, the city would take the same actions it would if any other business were being run out of a home without a home occupation permit. He said that would include telling the business owner he or she needed to come to City Center to get a home occupation permit. If they don’t, he said, the city would take enforcement action, as it would with other violations of the ordinance.

Steve Dumont, board member, said regulations are needed. He said a caregiver he knows of on Old Belgrade Road draws so many patients the home “is like Dunkin’ Donuts,” with vehicles coming and going regularly.

Caregivers with operations larger than would be allowed under the proposed new home occupation rules would need to meet not-yet-written standards for storefront medical marijuana businesses, an issue the subcommittee is still working on. Those storefronts probably would be allowed only in some zoning districts in the city, though what districts those might be is also still to be determined, according to Nazar.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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