HALLOWELL — After a failed motion to keep the downtown marijuana retail store limit at two, City Councilors postponed talks Monday night on changes to the city’s marijuana business licensing ordinance until more changes are made.

City Councilors unanimously voted to table the second and third readings of the city’s marijuana business licensing ordinance, and voted 6-1 to approve a second reading of the city’s marijuana zoning ordinance and license. Councilor Diana Scully cast the lone dissenting vote.

The zoning ordinance moved ahead with a number of small changes, although it is not official until the third reading.

Action on the licensing ordinance was delayed because Councilor Kate Dufour felt it was necessary to add transitional language for existing medical marijuana retail stores to move to adult-use sales. That language will be considered by the Ordinance Rewrite Committee, of which Dufour as chairperson, and come back before the council next month.

The licensing ordinance draft presented at the Jan. 13 City Council meeting contained a three-store limit, but Councilor George Lapointe moved to amend it to a two-store limit. Lapointe’s motion failed in a 3-4 vote, with Councilors Diana Scully, Diano Circo and Lapointe voting in the minority and Councilors Patrick Wynne, Michael Frett, Maureen Aucoin and Dufour dissenting.

Wynne then moved to approve the ordinance with the three-store limit, but the motion was tabled after about an hour of discussion.

Dufour said there was likely a need for “transitional language” if the existing store operators transition to selling adult-use marijuana.

Mayor Mark Walker balked at the idea of writing that language on the spot and suggested bouncing the ordinance back to Ordinance Rewrite Committee to formalize that language. City Clerk Diane Polky also brought up provisional licenses and how they apply within the draft ordinances. The second reading will likely be held

Dufour, the chairperson of the Ordinance Rewrite Committee, said the committee was split 3-3 on changing the limit. She said proponents of the change wanted to open up a third license to level the playing field, while opponents of the change did not think there was an appetite for a third establishment downtown.

“We literally cannot make a decision,” she said of the committee’s gridlock.

Councilor Diano Circo said he supported keeping the limit at two, adding that there was plenty of development around marijuana in the city and wanted to make sure the transition to adult-use went smoothly before adding a third store downtown.

“We want to make sure we have a diverse opportunity downtown for all types of (businesses),” Circo said.

In other districts, there are no numerical limits on how many marijuana establishments can be licensed.

The city’s marijuana ordinances created turbulence last year when three businesses applied for two licenses for downtown retail store licenses, leading to a Dec. 10, 2018, lottery. The results of the lottery gave Derek Wilson, who operated the Cannabis Healing Center at the time, and Allison Michaud, who operates the Frost Factory at 144 Water St., priority and left Catherine Lewis on the periphery.

After a criminal background check on all three, city councilors asked why Wilson and Michaud had not included all criminal convictions on their applications.

At a Jan. 7, 2018 City Council meeting, Michaud explained her six convictions, while Wilson was not present to address councilors about his one conviction. As a result, councilors denied Wilson a license and approved Michaud, citing her “good moral character” for showing up and saying they could not judge Wilson’s character because he was not at the meeting. Minutes later, the council awarded a license to Lewis, who now operates HomeGrown of Hallowell at 109 Water St.

An executive session Jan. 11, 2018, led to a public hearing scheduled so councilors could speak with Wilson. At that meeting, councilors did not reverse their decision, and the Cannabis Healing Center subsequently closed. Wilson told the Kennebec Journal last month he sold all of his equipment and has not worked since the store closed. He said he did not want to dwell on the process, which he called “a mess.”

The draft zoning ordinance also strikes all mention of the word “cannabis” in favor of the word “marijuana.” Aucoin said the minor change brings the city’s ordinance in line with the language used in state rule-making.

During the public hearing Monday, Lewis said there is rulemaking that may change the state’s term for pot from “marijuana” to “cannabis.” Scully considered amending the ordinances to undo the change, but Dufour said it was the wish of Hallowell’s lawyers to make this change.

The zoning ordinance also allows marijuana products manufacturing and testing facilities as conditional uses and marijuana retail stores as permitted uses in the Northern Gateway Business A district if the property is “at least 60% nonresidential, based on the total floor area of all structures on the lot.” Dufour said it would allow for mixed-use development in that area.

Another minor change changed the operating hours for marijuana establishments from in the rural farm district to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., while it is 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in all other districts. Dufour said a resident approached her to request this change.

After a brief public hearing, councilors also approved license renewals for HomeGrown of Hallowell and Cold Brook Cannabis at 301 Water St.

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