After more than a year of deliberation, Maine’s largest city joined 40 other communities to opt into the marijuana industry, but it broke ranks with the state by deciding to stand by its plan to give Mainers a leg up in the race to nab one of Portland’s 20 coveted retail marijuana licenses.

The City Council voted 8-1 to approve its proposed licensing ordinance, fee schedule and rules for cannabis businesses late Monday night, but rejected a staff recommendation to strip the residency bonus available to applicants who have lived in Maine for at least five years in the wake of the state’s decision to abandon a similar licensing preference last week.

The state Office of Marijuana Policy abandoned its four-year residency requirement for state business licenses last week after the state Attorney General’s Office decided it could not defend a legal challenge raised by Maine’s largest medical marijuana operator, Wellness Connection of Maine, which went to court to fight the requirement on constitutional grounds.

The city stood by its plan to cap the number of marijuana retail licenses at 20 and the score sheet it created to decide who will get one, giving preference to the disadvantaged, business owners, medical cannabis caregivers, those with $150,000 in the bank, and companies who pay a living wage or donate 1 percent of profits to the city for substance abuse prevention.

Under the licensing plan, the 20 highest scoring applications would land a retail license. Applicants can earn between two and six points in eight categories for a maximum of 34 total points. Some attributes count more than others. For example, someone with a track record of running a highly regulated business would get six points; those with $150,000 in the bank would get two points.

The categories in the proposed scoring matrix and their point values are:

• 6 points: at least 51 percent of business is owned by socially or economically disadvantaged individuals;

• 6 points: owner has experience running a highly regulated business, like marijuana or banking;

• 5 points: at least 51 percent of business is owned by Mainer of five years or more;

• 4 points: applicant has run a state or locally licensed Maine business for at least five years;

• 4 points: applicant owns proposed retail location or has leased it for at least five years;

• 4 points: applicant agrees to do three of the four: create five full-time jobs paying at least $15 an hour, offer workers paid time off and health benefits; conduct employee sensitivity training; or contribute 1 percent of net profits to the city for youth substance abuse education or prevention;

• 3 points: applicant is a registered medical marijuana caregiver of at least two years;

• 2 points: applicant can prove at least $150,000 in liquid assets.

The ordinance has been more than a year in the making. City voters approved legalization by a 2-to-1 margin in the 2016 statewide referendum, but Portland has been slow to adopt local regulations. The council has been debating the details of the local licensing system since it adopted a cannabis zoning map in February 2019.

Portland joins 40 other Maine communities, from Eliot to Grand Isle, that have agreed to allow some kind of adult-use industry.

Portland will allow all kinds of cannabis businesses to operate in B4 zones, along portions of Warren Avenue and Riverside Street.

Portland will allow marijuana retailers in several business zones, including downtown, West Bayside and along the Forest Avenue corridor, as well as inner Washington Avenue and the St. John-Valley Street area. Cannabis grows, manufacturing and testing will be allowed in industrial zones.

 

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