AUGUSTA — Advocates and some city councilors are concerned the city’s proposed medical marijuana rules could force many small caregivers now serving their patients from their homes out of business or homes — or both — and would favor larger, out-of-state-based operations over locally owned ones.

City officials said they would take another look at the proposed rules, which they anticipate could be ready to go into effect in two to three months.

As proposed, the rules would ban all medical marijuana caregivers from five zoning districts in the city that are primarily made up of residential neighborhoods. Together the five zones make up about 10 percent of the city’s geographical area, but include most of the residential neighborhoods of Augusta, according to Development Director Matt Nazar.

Registered caregivers operating in those zoning districts would have until June 2020 to either shut down or move to a zone in the city where medical marijuana caregivers would be allowed as conditional uses.

Resident Hillary Lister, former director of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, said she’s been a patient since 2013. Since that time she has gone to the same medical marijuana caregiver that is within walking distance of her residence — in one of the zoning districts where caregivers would be prohibited. She said her caregivers are retired nurses, 30-plus-year Augusta residents who’ve operated at the same location, without trouble, for six years. Lister said they are not interested in, nor do they have the money, to increase the size of their operation and open a storefront, and are very serious about providing their patients with a real medical product in carefully determined doses, without having a negative impact on their neighborhood.

“If this goes through, it will allow no way for them to be able to continue operating. I hope you can revisit some of the restrictions,” Lister told city councilors last week. “This ordinance right now seems to favor very large operations, and (will) shut down very low-impact small businesses from people who’d do everything possible to comply with the city requirements.

“Augusta would be the first city to simply shut down caregivers who are already operating,” she added, “and I’m not sure that would solve the problems councilors have brought up as concerns.”

At-Large Councilor Jennifer Day said she had concerns the proposed rules would squeeze small caregivers with regulations that would not have as much impact on better-funded, often out-of-state based businesses that could come set up medical marijuana grows and retail shops in zones in the city where such operations would be allowed.

“What we’re doing is regulating out the considerate, mindful provider,” Day said.

She and others suggested grandfathering caregivers who can prove they’ve been operating from their homes in residential neighborhoods before the new rules came along, with regulations put in place to require such caregivers to control odors and take other steps to avoid having a negative impact on their neighbors.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said she wouldn’t support such a proposal because she doesn’t want any businesses to operate within residential neighborhoods. She also said she doesn’t really believe marijuana is medicine. But said she has no problem with medical marijuana sales as long as they all take place from storefronts, out of residential areas.

“Allowing a business in a neighborhood is a slippery slope to me,” Conti said. “I also don’t believe the stuff is medicine, so that’s a prejudice I have. I can’t sell beer out of my house. I can’t sell cigarettes out of my house. I can’t sell LSD out of my house. So why should I be able to sell marijuana out of my house? If it sounds like I’m against marijuana, I apologize because I’m not. What I’m against is people selling things in residential areas.”

Kristin Collins, an attorney for the city, said officials working on the issue were planning to try to come up with a “dividing line” so smaller growers wouldn’t have to comply with the same level of regulation as larger growers, such as not having to have a commercial-level electrical systems. She said she and Nazar would work to edit the proposed rules and bring them back to councilors for additional review.

Mayor David Rollins said the city is trying to find “the sweet spot” with medical marijuana regulations to protect neighborhoods, while also allowing patients to have access to medical marijuana. He also said some aspects of the regulations — such as licensing and regulation of aspects of medical marijuana beyond caregivers, like growing and processing medical marijuana — could be set aside while more immediate work focuses on caregiver rules he thinks the city could have in place in two to three months.

“We’ve got people interested in getting into this business — some of them are already renting space — who are waiting,” Rollins said. “So, three months, is that reasonable? Two months? We should have some urgency to do that.”

A majority of city councilors have said the city will not allow recreational, or adult use, marijuana sales in Augusta so, even though adult use of marijuana was approved by voters in a statewide referendum in 2016, Augusta residents who are not medical marijuana patients would have to travel to nearby towns where retail sales are expected to be allowed.

Comments are disabled on some stories about sensitive topics.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.