Hearing set on rules for medical marijuana dispensaries

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A public hearing has been set for Tuesday, March 24 on rules that would be incorporated into the Site Plan Review Ordinance in case a Medical Marijuana Dispensary plans to locate in Bridgton. The Bridgton Planning Board will preside at the hearing, to take place at 7 p.m. in the downstairs meeting room of the Bridgton Municipal Complex.

It is unlikely that, in the near future, a medical marijuana dispensary would come to Bridgton, under the current restriction to eight dispensaries, or storefronts, in Maine’s Medical Marijuana Program. However, with sales and tax revenues steadily climbing, lawmakers could decide to further expand access by allowing more dispensaries. In 2014 the industry generated between $60–$75 million in sales, and brought in between $4 and $5 million in state tax revenue.

Under state law, patients can buy up to five ounces of marijuana a month. In 2014, there were 4,555 approved patients registered with the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program. Those patients were served by 1,720 caregivers, whose numbers have grown by 600 percent in four years.

The revisions drafted by Bridgton’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ad Hoc Committee would require the dispensary to meet all state licenses and approvals. In addition, the local rules would prohibit a dispensary from being located within 500 feet of a public or private school, any treatment center or halfway house, a childcare facility or any “Safe Zone Area,” such as a town-owned beach, as defined under the town’s Safe Zone Ordinance.

The revisions also spell out strict security and safety precautions the dispensary must take to prevent theft or unauthorized entry. These would include security cameras operating 24–7 at all entrances, as well as inside and outside the building. The dispensary must also maintain a 24-hour on-call staff member to notify the Bridgton Police Department of any operating problems. Burglar alarms must be installed at all doors and windows, and a panic button must be installed for staff.

As far as the cultivation of marijuana, which the state allows for dispensaries, everything must be contained indoors, and only 25% of the total floor area may be used for cultivation purposes. No marijuana or paraphernalia may be visible from outside the building, and measures must be taken to prevent any odors from escaping out of the building.

Disposal of materials generated in the growing process must meet state and federal laws, and the disposal plan must be on file with the town’s code enforcement officer and chief of police. Monthly disposal records must also be submitted to both town officials.

As a retail business, the dispensary may have a sign, but it must comply with Bridgton’s Sign Ordinance.

Catherine Pinkham, chairman of the ad hoc committee, said members met weekly and worked hard to come up with language that gives Bridgton some local control, while recognizing that some of the same rules are contained in DHS guidelines governing the Medical Marijuana Program. If the state adopts any stricter laws in the future, the stricter rules would apply.

Providing there are no substantive issues or concerns that come up at the public hearing, the revisions will go before voters as a referendum this June.

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