Portland councilors change way marijuana licenses will be awarded


PORTLAND — All qualified marijuana store applicants will be eligible to open for business after the City Council changed course Monday on its application review process.

All recreational and medical marijuana retail applicants that have received state approval will receive a tentative OK to operate in the city under the changes approved by the City Council.

The council’s changes come in the wake of a lawsuit against the city, filed by Wellness Connection, a medical marijuana dispensary operating in the city and owned by a Delaware company.  The company argued that the way city scored applicants gave an unfair advantage by awarding points to business owners who are Maine residents or who hold other state or local business licenses.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the case.

The city originally received 43 applications for marijuana retail outlets, said Anne Torregrossa, the city’s associate corporation counsel. After looking at disqualifying violations and convictions, the list was whittled down to 35.

After the council’s action Monday, those 35 applicants will be able to complete the licensing process.

Councilors Jill Duson, Kimberly Cook, Pious Ali, Belinda Ray and Justin Costa favored awarding licenses to all qualified applicants as opposed to awarding them through a lottery system.

“Issuing licenses to all qualified applicants takes away anyone’s realistic right to file a lawsuit against us,” Costa said.

Councilors Nick Mavodones and Tae Chong and Mayor Kate Snyder favored keeping the city’s scoring matrix, but removing the provisions that gives extra points to applicants that are Maine residents or own a Maine business license.

Chong said awarding licenses to all qualified applicants “is not a smart way to start off” and would result in more retail marijuana shops per capita than Denver, Colorado, one of the first municipalities in the nation to open up to the retail marijuana market.

Mark Barnett, owner of Higher Grounds on Wharf Street is seeking a medical marijuana retail license, supports awarding licenses to all those qualified.

“Whatever applicant numbers you are worried about, I would say trust that the market will be fairly brutally efficient in correcting that if it is too many,” Barnett said.

Joel Pepin, who is looking to get a recreational marijuana retail license for Jar Cannabis Company on Exchange Street, also favors awarding the licenses to qualified applicants.

Those seeking licenses are spread out throughout Portland and the market will be able to regulate itself, Pepin said.

 



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