AUGUSTA — City officials plan to pursue a ban on medical marijuana caregivers from residential zones citywide.

Though they didn’t vote at their informational meeting Thursday, a majority of city councilors indicated they want the city to ban medical marijuana caregivers from selling marijuana to their patients in the residential neighborhoods of Augusta.

The proposed ban might include grandfathering or sunset provisions, which could allow existing medical marijuana caregivers to keep operating out of their homes in residential zones for a to-be-determined period of time.

However, at least five councilors indicated they think the city should take action so medical marijuana operations do not continue to take place in residential neighborhoods, expressing concern about their potential negative effects, and asked an attorney to draft a ban.

A majority of councilors also indicated they’d favor of allowing marijuana retail stores in commercial zones in Augusta.

“I think marijuana should be just as legal to sell as groceries at Shaw’s,” Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said. “But you don’t see people running medical centers or grocery stores out of their homes.”

At-large Councilor Corey Wilson said he would vote for a proposal to ban medical marijuana caregivers from residential areas of the city only if the city allows medical marijuana storefronts in commercial zones.

Kristin Collins, a Preti Flaherty attorney working for the city, said her firm’s review indicates municipalities can ban medical marijuana caregivers from residential zones as long as they don’t prohibit them altogether and allow them in some zoning districts.

“Can you ban it in residential areas? Yes,” Collins told city councilors Thursday. “With the slight threat someone would say, ‘I have the constitutional right to do this because it was legal when I started the use.'”

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Collins said her firm’s advice would be to consider at least grandfathering caregivers operating in residential areas now, allowing them to keep operating. She said the city could limit, or sunset, the amount of time they could keep operating in residential areas.

In August a majority of city councilors previously expressed interest in banning medical marijuana caregivers from selling to their patients in all residential zoning districts in the city.

That proposal went beyond the recommendation of a council subcommittee that studied marijuana regulations; and that of the Planning Board, which was to regulate, but not ban, medical marijuana caregivers in residential zones. In June 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.

Collins said in a memorandum to city councilors this week Maine municipalities may regulate medical marijuana caregivers, retail stores, dispensaries and testing and manufacturing facilities but may not prohibit caregivers, nor place a limit on the number of registered caregivers, locating within their borders. She said her law firm believes a municipality could be found to be in violation of the ban on prohibiting caregivers if the effect of a regulation would be to prevent caregivers from locating in the municipality, such as if caregivers are restricted to a zone in which there is no usable or available real estate.

But she said the firm does not believe the proposal to ban caregivers from residential neighborhoods would violate state rules by prohibiting them, “because there would be many other reasonable places for caregivers to locate.”

Collins said she would prepare a proposal for councilors to consider.

In July the Legislature passed broad new medical marijuana regulations, permitting caregivers to expand the number of patients they sell to and giving municipalities more power to regulate them.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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