Dennis Meehan at his business, Nature’s Summit in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

GARDINER — When Dennis Meehan opened is medical marijuana shop on Water Street three years ago, it was already clear Maine would have an adult-use marijuana market someday.

Now that that day is drawing closer, Meehan is trying to figure out how to navigate the new regulatory environment and the costs associated with it for Nature’s Summit, his existing business, and for his planned expansion into the adult-use market.

“The way I look at all of this is even though the contrast is very difficult to deal with when it’s happening, it always makes me stronger,” Meehan said. “I think it’s like that for everyone.”

Like Meehan, city officials have their eyes on the launch of the adult-use market in Maine, and they want to have city regulations in place in time.

On Wednesday, the Gardiner City Council gave final approval to changes to the city’s land use ordinance, outlining where commercial pot enterprises can operate in the city, and started considering a proposal for annual licensing for both medical and adult-use marijuana in Gardiner.

The licensing proposal carries with it a schedule of fees ranging from $500 to $2,500 for the different sizes and types of operations.

“I have two stores in Gardiner, so I’d have to pay two of those retail fees, the manufacturing fee, the growing fee and I think the other one was extraction,” Meehan said Friday at his Water Street store.

“We do all aspects of the cannabis business, so we would have to pay all those separate fees. And then again, it would be a separate set of fees for adult use.”

One of his stores is at his house, located in an in-town neighborhood. While he will be allowed to maintain all aspects of his medical marijuana operation there, he will not be able to add adult-use marijuana operations because that is not allowed in high-density residential zoning.

District 2 City Councilor Amy Rees, who was elected to her first full term in November, has focused on business issues since she has been on the City Council.

Rees said Friday she would like to see a revision in the proposed fees and wait for Kris McNeill, Gardiner’s code enforcement officer, to bring fee recommendations back to the City Council at its March 25 meeting.

“We have to not make it prohibitive for small family businesses that are trying to survive in the town,” Ross said. “We have to come up with a good balance and base things on the size of the operation.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, McNeill said the proposed marijuana licensing fees are higher than those for liquor licenses and other business fees.

“It’s not unusual, though,” he said. “The ones I am aware of in the state for retail: Portland is $10,000, Topsham is $3,000 and Auburn is higher than Portland, I think. It’s your decision what we set these at.”

Some of the cannabis at Nature’s Summit in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

He said Mark Eyerman, the city’s contract planner, looked at what other communities were considering and drew up recommendations for Gardiner.

The higher fees reflect the additional work involved in licensing and permitting a marijuana-related business and for enforcing city regulations, he said.

“When we get approached by a marijuana business wanting to open up,” he said, “it’s a lot more legwork than when someone wants to open up a clothing store.”

“To me, it sends the wrong message,” District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry said Wednesday. “It’s discriminatory.”

Gardiner is home to rum distiller Sebago Lake Distillery, craft brewer Bateau Brewing and a second craft brewer, Jokers & Rogues, which is not yet open. Those businesses do not pay for significantly higher business licenses.

Rees suggested a tiered license fee schedule so small-scale manufacturing operations would not have to pay the same as a large-scale enterprise.

On Friday, she said it is important for Gardiner to strike a balance between what other communities are charging and what is realistic for Gardiner compared to other business licenses.

Because of the process used to approve ordinances, changing the proposal that is headed for a second public hearing and vote at the March 25 meeting would mean pushing off the final decision.

Mayor Patricia Hart suggested not delaying passing the ordinance. She said it can be put in place and then be amended if that is what city elected officials want to do, to keep the timeline on track for the debut of the adult-use market.

No one knows yet when that will be. The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, or OMP, has committed to a spring 2020 launch, but as of Friday could not give a more precise date.

David Heidrich, director of engagement and community outreach, said OMP Director Erik Gunderson has said he is interested in establishing a retail sales launch date to allow products to be tested and retailers to stock their shelves sufficiently to satisfy the initial demand at launch.

“We’ll release more details on that when it is appropriate to do so,” Heidrich said Friday.

 

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