SOMERVILLE — A public hearing on a draft marijuana business ordinance drew no attention from town residents Thursday, leaving a member of the committee that crafted it worried that may be voted down next month.

Town voters will decide whether or not to adopt the ordinance at a special town meeting March 7 at the Somerville Elementary School.

Thursday’s discussion on the topic was held between members of the Cannabis Committee and Planning Board. Claudia Fujinaga, a member of the Cannabis Committee, said she surprised that no members of the public attended Thursday’s public hearing. She said she was worried the ordinance may be rejected by residents who object having marijuana in town “on general principle.” Fujinaga said “an awful lot of work” went into the 28-page draft ordinance.

Work on the ordinance began in February 2019, when the town’s Cannabis Committee formed. The committee’s chairperson, Jackson McLeod, said at the time that the town could benefit from grow operations and product manufacturing businesses, particularly with property and equipment taxes. The Kennebec Journal reported Wednesday that the draft gives preference to town residents who wish to start marijuana businesses.

Per the draft, a total of four retail marijuana businesses will be allowed in Somerville, two adult-use and two medical. According to the ordinance, town residents will be given preference on the licenses then, if two candidates are vying for one license, a merit-based scoring guide will be used to rank the applications. The same process will apply to out-of-town applicants. In the event of a tie, a lottery drawing would be held. The merit-based scoring guide awards points based on nine criteria, including being a Somerville resident, being a member of a Native American tribe or having prior experience in the cannabis industry.

Licenses for other marijuana businesses, including cultivation and manufacturing facilities, would be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

All applications carry a nonrefundable $500 fee. Annual retail store license fees, adult-use or medical, are listed at $2,500. Annual manufacturing and testing facilities license fees are $1,500 plus any fire and code enforcement inspection fees. Annual licensing fees for adult-use cultivation facilities range from $1,000 to $3,000 based on how many square feet of plant canopy is being grown, while medical marijuana cultivation carries a $250 fee plus inspection fees.

Planning Board Chairperson Jim Grenier Sr. said Thursday that the board received public comment stating that the introductory fees are too high. Grenier said the board, under the guidance of the Cannabis Committee, believed it was “within reason” to charge a $1,000 fee for the smallest cultivation operations, which is up to 500 square feet of plant canopy.

The license fee is probably going to be the least expense you’re going to have (if you want to start a marijuana business),” Grenier said. “Anyone going into this endeavor has to have some financial capability and assets.”

Grenier said the $2,500 fee for a retail store is “fairly steep,” but business owners could see a “high return” on their investment.

The license fees are subject to change, per the ordinance, if the actual cost to conduct necessary inspections is lower than expected. Grenier said the fire department would likely need to train firefighters to perform the inspections and that cost would be passed on through application fees.

Greneir said the money taken in from applications fees cannot be used to create revenue for the city, so unsuccessful applications would likely have their fees returned. He said the city would make money through other avenues, including taxes and a portion of taxes on the sale of marijuana in town.

Those fees are higher than nearby municipalities in central Maine. In Hallowell, marijuana business licenses carry an annual fee of $250. Across the Kennebec River in Chelsea, medical marijuana retail stores carry a $1,000 licensing fee.

The draft ordinance states that no marijuana businesses would be 1,000 feet from the property line of any school or other marijuana business. Also, all businesses must be operated from permanent locations and can’t have drive-through windows.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: