Marijuana shops in Kittery: Public hearing brings out advocates and foes

Ian Lenahan

| Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — The image of how five marijuana shops would look in town became less hazy Thursday night.

“The modern and upscale feel of my retail store will blend seamlessly with other businesses such as Beach Pea, Terra Cotta, Carl’s (Meat Market) and the Golden Harvest as well as the other retail stores and restaurants already established in the neighborhood,” according to Julie Cutting-Kelley of Green Blossoms LLC.

Several business hopefuls began advocating for retail cannabis in town zoning districts during a town Planning Board public hearing, during which owners of non-marijuana businesses argued the impact on them was not being considered.

A town official-led proposal to allow five retail marijuana stores was born following a petition that garnered hundreds of signatures last fall supporting the opening of such retailers.

The draft of the ordinance states that “any marijuana grown by a marijuana business shall be grown indoors only” and that the area of all business to which customers have access “shall be no less than 400 nor more than 1,000 square feet.”

More: Will Kittery allow 5 marijuana stores or will plan go up in smoke?

That proposal came after closely working with Kittery resident Josh Seymour, the creator of the petition, and allows for the five retail spots, composed of adult-use and medical establishments, to be allowed in the C-1, C-2, C-3 and mixed-use zoning districts by special exception.

The C-1 district encompasses the Ripley Road and Route 1 area, while C-2 is on Route 236. The C-3 district includes Gorges Road, Valley Road and shares Old Post Road as a border with a neighboring district.

The town holds three mixed-use districts, one on Badgers Island and another in the Foreside area, with the third bordering the town of York and including Ledgewood Drive.

Seymour, owner of Green Truck Farms, a dispensary in North Berwick, called into the public hearing Thursday to again express his support for the ordinance, saying he believes “cannabis is good for the community.”

“We can add to our tax base and jobs for the community. We (can) employ a lot of local people,” he said.

Cutting-Kelley wrote a letter to the board saying she hopes her South Berwick-based business can expand into Kittery. She pressed a recommendation she had made in the past, asking for board consideration to allow the establishments in the town’s B-L1 zone, situated in the Foreside area.

More: Maine marijuana shops report brisk business despite pandemic

She said her business, Emerald Elevations, which would be located at 57 State Road, would be a “welcome addition to the Foreside area.”

Allowing such retail in the B-L1 zone, she continued, would “avoid clustering all retail marijuana” in the C-1, C-2 and C-3 districts.

“A dispersal of marijuana retail would assist with having this new industry blend with existing businesses in Kittery,” she said.

Prospective retailer and Theory Wellness adult-use cannabis company CEO Brandon Pollack wrote to say the 1,000-square-foot maximum on the customer side of a dispensary should be amended, as a tight space during a global pandemic is not optimal for staff or patrons. Additionally, smaller spaces exacerbated by social distancing guidelines, he said, means customers would need to wait outside, and the ordinance would run the risk of long lines. He said 1,000 square feet would keep the focus on cashier and customer space, limiting space to educate customers on the benefits and safety measures tied to recreational marijuana.

One of the Theory Wellness locations in South Portland, Pollack wrote, is 3,000 square feet and suits its needs.

Opponents speak out, too

Clay Wyman, caregiver of Southern Maine Apothecary at 114 State Road, argued big businesses having their eye on Kittery goes against its small-town style.

“I think that four establishments on State Road and the other caregivers in town adequately serve those needs of the town,” he said.

Fellow Kittery caregiver Wendy Turner of Seaweed Farm wrote to the board that the town puts caregivers at a disadvantage with the language of the ordinance restricting outside growing of marijuana with the inclusion of retail establishments in town.

An inability to grow outside in bulk for other medical stores or businesses would adversely affect the state’s supply of cannabis and sales for caregivers.

“With unreasonable restrictions individual caregivers will not be able to stay in business,” Turner wrote. “The town is close to putting small caregiver businesses out of business with this ordinance.”

More: Marijuana is now Maine’s biggest agricultural commodity

Where to go from here

The Planning Board unanimously voted Thursday to extend a public hearing to the next meeting Thursday, Feb. 25.

Following the hearing, board member Russell White said the Planning Board had “two animals that need regulation,” saying further review should be conducted into the implications of larger-scale commercial businesses and caregivers potentially coexisting in Kittery. He said the ordinance doesn’t properly address caregivers and their operations.

“I think one type of business might be adversely affected and the other type of business might try to exploit the confusion,” he said.

As it stands now, the ordinance’s draft mandates that establishments are set back 1,000 feet from public and private schools and 250 feet from Kittery day-care centers.

Planning Board chair Dutch Dunkelberger said a continued conversation extending from Thursday’s hearing would allow the board to compile input to “put it in a blender and see what comes out.”

“I think as we get some more publicity here on what’s going on on the Planning Board, we might hear some different opinions as well as some more good ideas,” he said.

After concluding the public hearing in late February, Planning Board members will vote on whether to advance the ordinance to the Town Council. If so, a workshop session between board members and councilors will take place and a formal presentation of the ordinance’s amendments would be given to the Council.

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