Lottery may decide who gets coveted slots for Rockland pot shops

By Stephen Betts | Nov 27, 2019

Rockland — The Rockland City Council is expected to vote in January on a proposed city law that would cap the number of retail marijuana stores at six.

The four businesses that have already received planning board approval for medical marijuana businesses would get the first shot at four of the six retail slots.

Any remaining retail slots would be awarded based on a lottery system.

The Rockland City Council met Monday night, Nov. 25, and for 90 minutes went over a proposed ordinance.

The majority of councilors voiced support for capping the number of retail stores to be allowed at six. And no more than three could be located in any single zone -- such as downtown, commercial, or plaza.

Councilor Valli Geiger pointed out that six stores for a city the size of Rockland would be adequate. She voiced concern that people who feel they can make huge money at marijuana will throw around money to get downtown locations and without a cap, existing businesses could be displaced.

Portland, with a population of about 67,000, has capped the number at 20.

Mayor Lisa Westkaemper suggested letting the market decide how many stores.

"I don't know if it will be a gold rush in Rockland," she said.

Councilors opted for a lottery system rather than a first-come, first-served system which could result in a line of people outside City Hall in the early hours of the day applications could be accepted.

Councilors briefly debated about allowing stores in the downtown. Councilor Ed Glaser was alone in opposing that proposal. He pointed out that voters opposed downtown retail marijuana stores in a non-binding referendum.

Voters said no in a November 2018 referendum to allowing adult recreational marijuana stores in the downtown by a 1,610 to 1,282 tally (56 percent to 44 percent). But they said they would support recreational marijuana stores elsewhere in the city by a 1,670 to 1,240 tally (57 percent to 43 percent).

"We have a responsibility to follow what the people said," Glaser said. "Whatever reason they voted that way, we need to respect it."

Councilor Ben Dorr, however, voiced support for allowing retail stores downtown.

"This is our Brexit moment," Dorr said.

Geiger said that there is almost no distinction between medical marijuana shops and retail.

City Attorney Mary Costigan will develop the formal ordinance based on what the councilors said at Monday night meeting and will come up with a lottery plan. A preliminary vote could be held Jan. 13 and, if approved, then would go for a final vote in February.

Maine residents chose to legalize recreational marijuana in a 2016 public vote. But it has taken three years for rules to be developed.

The Office of Marijuana Policy, which will oversee roll out of the adult-use market, will begin taking testing lab applications Nov. 18, and start accepting cultivation, manufacturing and retail license applications Dec. 5, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Under the state law, municipalities through their legislative bodies must vote to opt in for retail stores to be allowed in a particular community.

The Rockland Planning Board has approved four medical marijuana stores and three have received licenses from the City Council.

Scrimshaw at 500 Main Street received approval in May 2018 from the Planning Board, and the City Council voted in August 2018 to issue a permit for the business. That store opened earlier this year.

Highbrow at 696 Main St., the former site of a C.N. Brown gas station, was approved by the Planning Board Oct. 1.

Dirigo Medical CBD at 270 Park Street, which had formerly been used by Midcoast Children's Services, and before that, by Grace Bible Fellowship, got Planning Board approval Oct. 15.

Both Highbrow and Dirigo got their medical marijuana licenses approved by the City Council on Nov. 13.

The Planning Board approved Nov. 19 the proposal by Nancy Shaw of Swanville to operate a medical marijuana processing facility at 11 Lime St., the part of the former Bicknell Manufacturing building located closest to Tillson Avenue.

The business -- New World Organics -- still needs a license from the City Council. She hopes to open by Jan. 1.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Nov 29, 2019 08:47

Let the market decide. There are four pharmacies in Rockland, as well as four auto parts stores - something that has always struck me as odd, given the size of Rockland and the surrounding catchment area.

 

And respecting the will of the voters (even if by a non-binding resolution) to prohibit the sale in the Downtown Zone is important, even if I disagree with it. It was only a year ago - the context today is not significantly different.



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Nov 27, 2019 20:13

Thank you Councilor Glaser for reminding our city government that they need to remember what the tax payers voted on and not what they want personally.



Posted by: Amy Files | Nov 27, 2019 11:53

If there is a serious threat of marijuana businesses displacing other businesses or driving up retail rental costs -- a cap sounds reasonable. However, I question that this is legitimate concern -- have we seen any sign of it yet? Scrimshaw moved into what has otherwise been an unused space for many many years and by doing so activated an area of Main Street that has been dead for too long. Highbrow is moving into a brand new built building -- I question that it would have otherwise been occupied... similarly the space down in the Bicknell -- it does not feel like any of these businesses are displacing others.

My only concern with a cap is that it may lock in businesses that are not fit to survive without the cap... so a cap may not, ultimately, benefit Rockland. It would not be helpful to preserve a limited amount of licenses for a business that either doesn't use it or doesn't use it well. What I do like about the idea of caps is that it gives the city a level of control that it seems people may want over this industry -- as part of the license agreement, the city could make certain requirements and withhold the right to take back a license from a business that isn't operating at best practices as defined by the City.

Re: Councilor Glaser's comments about the vote. I would agree with him that the vote should be respected but with this particular vote, we need to recognize that it was relatively narrow and not by any means a clear and loud call to keep retail businesses from the downtown. No -- almost 50% (44%) of Rockland supported having retail businesses located downtown. And as other councilors have stated, there is a very small difference now between retail and medical marijuana. That is something that the then voters could not have known or understood when they voted for this issue so Councilors need to take that into account. Similarly, sentiment on marijuana is constantly changing. A vote this year could produce different results (in favor or against who knows but in general, on issues like this, the public tends to get used to the idea and come around). Lastly, I don't see how it would be fair to say to a business like Scrimshaw that they may not operate a retail business at their location while only a short distance down the road we allow Highbrow? 

In this case it would be unwise to simply follow a vote that doesn't take into account current context, new information and regulations, or the market in regards to now existing and operating businesses.



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Nov 27, 2019 10:15

These are just so many democratic talking points.  You can not turn the river.  The water will flow as it will.  Just let the market decide.  If 10 open in two or three years there will be 5.  You can't control the market place, or the gold rush.  Our council spends so much of it's time on limits moratoriums and caps.  I'm with Mayor Westkaemper on this.  Let the market decide.  I also agree with Mr. Glaser.  The people have spoken, they elected the council to represent them not themselves.



Posted by: Ron Pendleton | Nov 27, 2019 06:02

And there's how many establishments that sell alcohol in Rockland?



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