The Gardiner City Council has put in place annual licensing requirements for cannabis-related businesses with little discussion.

The changes were enacted on an emergency basis, and complete the changes to the city’s Land Use Ordinance that Gardiner officials have been considering as the state of Maine moves closer to launching the adult-use marijuana marketplace.

In holding the meeting, Gardiner officials were taking advantage both of the emergency temporary legislation passed last week by the Maine State Legislature that permits remote participation in public meetings and of the technology that makes it happen.

The changes were put in place to allow public business to be conducted even as state and public health officials have limited the number of people allowed to gather in one place to 10, in an effort to slow the spread of the dangerous and highly contagious coronavirus.

Gardiner officials requested that all public comment and comments for public hearings be submitted in writing, email or voice message.

And to make clear the results of voting to the people viewing remotely, each vote was a roll call.

At Tuesday’s public hearing on licensing marijuana businesses, no comments were submitted from the public, and elected officials had no comments.

The final provision of Gardiner’s cannabis-related ordinance changes sets out a yearly licensing program for both adult-use and medical marijuana establishments, and fees ranging from $500 to $2,500 based on an operation’s type and size.

The proposed fee schedule was drafted based on what other communities in the state have been considering.

During the first reading at the council’s March 4 meeting, Kris McNeill, the city’s code enforcement officer, said the higher fees take into consideration the additional work that licensing and permitting cannabis-related businesses takes as well as the cost of enforcing city regulations.

The proposed fee schedule had drawn criticism both from those who would have to pay those fees, like Dennis Meehan, who operates Nature’s Summit on Water Street, a medical marijuana establishment, and who also provides medical marijuana products from his Gardiner home. City councilors also said the fees are burdensome on small businesses and discriminatory.

When the City Council met March 4, they voted to send the proposal to a second and final read so that Gardiner’s regulations would be in place in time for the statewide marijuana market launch later this year.

It’s now not clear when that launch will take place. The state Office of Marijuana Policy had committed earlier this year to a spring 2020 launch.

But on Tuesday, a memo from the Office of Marijuana Policy indicated the adult-use market debut may be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“(The Office of Marijuana Policy) would be abdicating its responsibility as a regulator committed to ensuring the health and safety of the public if it were to attempt to launch a program that would result in actions contrary to the social distancing guidance provided by our state and nation’s leading public health experts,” the memo reads in part.

Even as they voted in favor of adopting the licensing provisions, elected officials agreed to review and possibly change the fee schedule in a separate move.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Patricia Hart reminded city council members that they had committed to revisiting the fee schedule at a future meeting.

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