The Rockland City Council gave the unanimous go-ahead Monday night to direct the Comprehensive Planning Commission to develop proposed regulations for marijuana distribution centers.

One councilor asked if the panel could recommend a ban on these centers, where marijuana would be handed out to people with certain medical conditions.

Councilor Tom Molloy proposed the directive to avoid the situation that occurred when a methadone clinic was proposed in Rockland in 2005. At that time, the city had no regulations. But after Turning Tide proposed a methadone clinic on Park Street, the council enacted a zone change that would limit such clinics to Rockland’s one-mile stretch of Route 90.

Turning Tide filed a federal lawsuit and the City Council eventually settled by allowing methadone clinics at the former Tuttle Shoe Barn property adjacent to the Thomaston town line.

The methadone clinic opened in August 2008.

“I don’t want us to go through the wringer again,” Molloy said.

The order approved Monday night on a 5-0 vote would ask the commission to propose within one year the appropriate locations and regulations for the marijuana centers.

Maine voters agreed in November to expand the medical marijuana law to allow for dispensaries and for more conditions that would qualify for use of the drug. Rockland voters approved the expanded state law on a vote of 1,630-1,059.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson asked whether the council could adopt regulations to prohibit the centers. City attorney Kevin Beal said he was not sure. He said the effort to prevent a methadone clinic faced a legal challenge because methadone is a treatment approved for drug addicts and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act protects such treatments.

The attorney noted, however, that the federal government has not approved marijuana for medical use and that the same ADA protection may not apply with marijuana.

Councilor Eric Hebert said the vote by the council did not condone or show opposition to medical marijuana. He said if the state requires communities to accept medical marijuana distribution centers, the council’s action could have the community address the issue better than during the methadone debate.

Brewer city councilors enacted in December a six-month moratorium on marijuana dispensaries to allow the city to come up with a way to handle any proposed centers. The Ellsworth City Council took the same action Monday night. South Portland city councilors rejected such a moratorium earlier this month.

A state committee is working on regulations for the operation of marijuana distribution centers. This follows the November statewide vote. The initiative allows for the creation of nonprofit marijuana dispensaries, like those that exist in several other states. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services would issue identification cards to medical marijuana users.