Medical marijuana growing operation okayed

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Despite concerns expressed by new Police Chief Richard Stillman, the Bridgton Planning Board tentatively approved plans Aug. 4 for part of the old Bridgton Knitting Mill to be used in growing medical marijuana.

Canuvo operates a licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Biddeford, and will be using 31,000 square feet of the former mill space on the Portland Road to grow and process pharmaceutical-grade cannabis.

The board made the approval conditional on Canuvo’s owner, Glenn Peterson, sitting down with Stillman and Fire Chief Glen Garland to draft a comprehensive security plan. The board also wants to see a copy of a letter from the Bridgton Water District confirming their willingness to supply one million gallons of water annually to serve the processing needs of the agricultural operation.

In a letter written his first week on the job, Stillman listed his concerns about the cultivation operation as follows: “security of the building, security of staff, diversion, crime reporting, quality of life issues, robbery of cultivation center, delivery drivers, B&E/burglary, drug resales and diversion, including the marijuana infused products and internal theft.”

Peterson told the board Aug. 4 that he gave Stillman a copy of “the 160 pages of regulations I live under” as one of eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries under the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program. He suggested that Stillman, who was formerly Police Chief in Walpole, Mass., might not be fully up to speed on how much regulatory oversight is required for dispensaries and cultivation sites in Maine.

But Board member Dee Miller said it wasn’t enough to provide the town with a copy of the state law. “You do this all the time, but we don’t. This is all new to me.”

Canuvo is licensed by the state through April 28, 2016, Peterson said. “Everything I do has a standard operating procedure to it. I have lots of security requirements by the state to live by also. I am happy to keep everybody informed, because my concern as well is about safety,” he said.

Peterson said one of the reasons the former mill, a one-story cement-block building, was so appealing as a cultivation center was the security it already has in place. He is proposing a five-year lease purchase with building owner Dan Craffey to grow and harvest the marijuana, which will then be transported to the Biddeford dispensary for further processing as baked goods, tinctures or other delivery systems.

“One of the nice things about the knitting mill is its former top-secret status with the U.S. Army” when it was used by Radiodetection, he said. “All of the entrances have manned cages,” allowing for controlled access to the back two sections of the building where the operation will be housed, said Peterson. The other part of the building is used for boat storage by Moose Landing Marina. “I understand the chief’s concern, but he’s been here for a week,” Peterson said.

Fire Chief Garland also had concerns, centered on the ability of Canuvo to tap into the building’s sprinkler systems and alarm system, and whether there are fire-rated walls between rooms. Peterson said he will make sure those concerns are satisfied prior to the Sept. 1 final approval, adding that the project will also be inspected by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Peterson said he’ll be using propane to introduce carbon dioxide into the grow areas, and the CO2 will be monitored to make sure levels are not exceeded. He said all employees will be drug-tested, and although there won’t be round-the-clock staffing, his daughter, Canuvo’s general manager, plans to move to Bridgton soon, and she will be available within minutes should an alarm go off.

Ordinance doesn’t apply

At an earlier meeting, the board sought a legal opinion on whether the project must also meet the new rules on medical marijuana dispensaries, approved in June by voters, that were incorporated into the town’s Site Plan Review Ordinance. Writing on behalf of Town Attorney Dick Spencer, lawyer Agnieszka Pinette said Canuvo did not have to be reviewed under those rules because the application was pending at the time the rules were adopted.

Peterson said that, in his opinion, some aspects of the new rules crafted by a town-appointed Medical Marijuana Committee were “null and void” because they were more restrictive than the state regulations. He referred specifically to, as an example, the town’s provision to retain security camera footage for 60 days, when the state only requires the footage be kept for 14 days. Another example he gave was requiring 500-foot setback distances from day care centers and drug treatment centers, among other facilities, when the state 500-foot setback requirements only apply to public schools.

The board did not discuss those disparities once they learned that the town’s rules did not apply to Canuvo’s application.

After the 5-0 vote, Peterson said, “We’re so happy to be coming to Bridgton.”

Board Chairman Steve Collins replied, “Thank you for a good application on a complex project.”

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