RICHMOND — Voters at a special town meeting Monday narrowly opted not to impose a temporary ban on allowing medical marijuana storefronts to open in Richmond while town officials work out a proposal on where they might be permitted.

Instead, those stores can open anywhere that businesses are allowed in Richmond while work gets underway on reviewing whether any regulations on where such stores will be allowed are needed.

“We’ll just have to do it faster,” James Valley, Richmond’s code enforcement officer said Monday.

When residents first voted, the six-month moratorium was approved 15-14, but after the request by a resident for a recount, it failed on a 14-15 vote.

About 30 people filled the meeting room Monday at the Richmond Town Hall, some with questions about what the proposed ban would mean for the town.

Elise Faris asked whether residents had requested the moratorium.

Valley said he was among the people to bring it forward.

“I believe that the town needs to know what’s going on,” Valley said. “If the folks want this, great. And if they don’t want it, great. But I believe the town just needs the time to put the right standards in place so that I don’t, down the line, get a complaint that we have a (medical marijuana) retail shop next to the school, next to the ice cream shop, which could happen with no regulations. That’s my main concern.”

Chris McCabe, an attorney representing Aaron Holmes, said the moratorium would cut off business rights, which is not the case now with no ban in place.

McCabe’s firm offers legal counsel and strategic advice to the cannabis industry. Holmes is the director of health and wellness at the Innovative Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Richmond. Holmes has plans to offer medical marijuana products to patients at the center. At the public hearing at the end of August for the special town meeting, Holmes said he was concerned that a moratorium would delay his plans for almost a year.

This is not the first time Richmond and its elected officials have taken on regulation of medical marijuana.

A little over a year ago, town officials learned about a loophole in the state’s medical marijuana law at the time that allowed medical marijuana to be grown anywhere.

The town’s Planning Board had no grounds to deny an application by 150 Main LLC to convert about half of the former manufacturing building at 150 Main St. into a secure facility to grow medical marijuana that could be sectioned off and leased to individual caregivers.

The building is at the edge of the village district, but it’s also about 240 feet away from Richmond Middle/High School.

That prompted a last-minute bill that passed into law at the end of the 2017 legislative session, allowing cities and towns to establish limits on how close to schools registered caregivers could grow marijuana for at least a year.

Because the facility operated by 150 Main was already in place, it was not affected by that law.

Since then, state lawmakers have been grappling with how to regulate both medical marijuana and adult-use or recreational marijuana in Maine. While medical cannabis became legal years ago, recreational marijuana was made legal by a narrow margin via a statewide referendum in November 2016. That law also makes commercial cannabis enterprises such as shops, bakeries and testing facilities, among other things, possible.

Many cities and towns across the region set up temporary bans — unless they banned the commercial enterprises outright — so their land-use regulations could be updated to reflect these new businesses.

Earlier this year, in reshaping the medical marijuana laws, state lawmakers paved the way for the expansion of medical marijuana storefronts, and some cities and towns have responded by imposing moratoriums to halt expansion of such of caregiver-related businesses so ordinances could be updated.

In Gardiner, Richmond’s neighbor to the north, where two medical marijuana shops have opened on Water Street, the City Council approved a temporary ban on any more shops opening. The two existing shops are unaffected by it.

Valley said Tuesday no one other than Holmes has come forward with plans to open a medical marijuana storefront.

Only those seeking a change of use for a specific property would have to come to the Planning Board for review, he said.

If an ordinance is proposed in Richmond, it would have to go before voters, either at a special town meeting or at the annual Town Meeting in June.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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