OAKLAND — Local officials are confused about their ability to regulate a cannabidiol extraction laboratory looking to set up shop in Oakland.

The group is conducting testing in the old Harris Baking Co. building in Waterville but has eyes on the former Guardian Building site at 826 Kennedy Memorial Drive, where it would like to build a high-end laboratory. The operation would bring 20 new jobs to the Oakland area.

John Jabar discussed the plan Wednesday night at an Oakland Town Council meeting. His attorney, Andre Duchette, was also present.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is an oil extract that can be blended into balms, foods and other bases and is primarily used for alleviating pain and anxiety.  While the compound is found in marijuana plants, it has no psychoactive properties and also can be extracted from hemp plants. Hemp lost its designation as a Schedule 1 drug in September 2018. As long as the crop contains less than 0.3 percent THC — what’s responsible for getting a marijuana user “high” — it is no longer subject to the same regulations as cannabis in Maine.

Duchette and town councilors disagreed over interpretations of hemp laws Wednesday. Oakland had received legal advice from the Maine Municipal Association, which noted that while state law “allows cultivation, harvest, possession and processing of industrial hemp” by licensed individuals, state licenses “do not include manufacturing of CBD oils or other hemp-derived concentrates.”

MMA Legal Services’ “Maine Marijuana Statutes Cheat Sheet,” which was updated last on Feb. 11, states that “manufacture and sale of CBD products, regardless of source, is illegal unless done in compliance with Maine medical or adult use marijuana statutes.”

Jabar and Duchette maintained that this is not the case.

“I just look at it from a legal definition and a legal position in terms of what’s regulated and what’s regulated where, and by definition it’s not medical marijuana,” Duchette said. “So then to say it somehow transforms into medical marijuana as soon as it becomes CBD oil (is misguided).”

The former Harris Bakery in Waterville is occupied by Mainely Processing, a company that processes and tests hemp products. The business discussed on Wednesday at the Oakland Council meeting its plan to move into the former Guardian Products building in Oakland. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Duchette later stated that he thought the MMA gave Oakland inaccurate information.

“Either you or I are misunderstanding the law,” Councilor Bob Nutting said. “You think it’s me and I think it’s you.”

As Code Enforcement Officer Dave Savage summarized: “We have two different lawyers saying once you extract CBD, it turns into medical marijuana or not,” he said. “It’s a gray area. Everyone interprets it differently.”

Earlier this month, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services ordered businesses to remove all edible CBD products including tinctures, foods and capsules from their shelves because it is not FDA-approved.

Rather than choose to opt in or opt out of allowing Jabar to do business in Oakland, the council voted to take no action and table the discussion until its next meeting, on March 16.

“Right now, if what Jabar wants to do was not precluded by the town of Oakland saying they don’t want to do it. He could go ahead and do it, but he can’t — or perhaps he shouldn’t — because of the confusion about state law,” Nutting said. “My suggestion to make this all simple is that the town do nothing and you wait until the Legislature changes in such a way that you feel comfortable that you can put the billing in without being in violation of state law or the town’s ordinance.”

Jabar has not yet submitted a building permit application to the town of Oakland. He also has not bought the Oakland facility officially at this point.

“We’ve negotiated a lease for the option to buy it,” Jabar said.

Jabar started his business by processing marijuana at a location in Fairfield Center.

“We moved to Waterville because we got out of processing marijuana and we only process exclusively hemp,” he said.

The old Guardian building that is for sale in Oakland caught his attention. Jabar explained plans to “completely redo” the building and give it the “look of a brewpub.”

“We don’t need a pristine place,” he said. “We need a place that we can build to a laboratory condition.”

While Jabar has not provided Oakland with the name of his planned laboratory yet, Waterville Assessor’s Assistant Allison Brochu said  “Mainely Processing” was the name on that city’s December 2018-issued permit allowing Jabar to begin processing hemp.

 

From left, Oakland Town Council Chairman Mike Perkins and Councilors Dana Wrigley, Bob Nutting, Harold Buzzell, Don Borman and Janice Porter listen on Wednesday to representatives of a company that wants to create a laboratory in Oakland where cannibidiol would be extracted from hemp. Morning Sentinel photo by Meg Robbins

OTHER BUSINESS

In other news, councilors discussed securing Oakland’s fire chief, Dave Coughlin, a town-owned vehicle. Coughlin uses his own vehicle to respond to calls.

“I don’t think you should be using your own vehicle for municipal use,” Council Chairman Mike Perkins said. “I don’t think that’s fair for you or taxpayers.”

This point was agreed upon unanimously by the other councilors. Discussion centered on whether to lease a new vehicle or to outfit an old Oakland police cruiser to suit Coughlin’s needs. Councilors requested more specific cost estimates of those two options and will vote on the path forward Tuesday at a Budget Committee meeting.

The former Guardian Building Products building in Oakland is being eyed as a site for a cannibidiol facility. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The council also unanimously appointed a Broadband/Fiber Optics Evaluation Committee to oversee research into improvements to broadband internet service downtown. Oakland received a $15,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation for the project earlier this month. Councilor Don Borman; Joshua Zuckerman of Snow Pond Technology Group Inc.; Danielle Marquis, of Higgins and Bolduc insurance agency; and Alexandra Fabian, of Fabian Oil, will sit on the committee. Garvan Donegan and Elaine Theriault-Currier, of the Central Maine Growth Council, will serve as ex-officio members alongside Town Manager Gary Bowman.

Kathy Geaghan was reappointed as the town’s assessor through December 2021 and Janice Porter was reappointed as town clerk, also through December 2021. Both of those votes were unanimous.

Councilors also unanimously voted to renew liquor licenses and special amusement permits for American Legion Decker-Simmons Post 51 and Riverside Farm Market, a restaurant and wine store, after Bowman reported that the town has not had any problems with them in the past.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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