Council Holds Public Hearing on Retail Marijuana Sales

9 Renaissance Way, across the street from the Center for Shopping in South Sanford, is one of the properties being considered to allow retail sales of adult-use marijuana.

A public hearing on proposed amendments to four chapters of the zoning ordinance, which would allow retail sales of adult-use cannabis (marijuana) in Sanford, was held at the City Council meeting March 15, 2022.

Several of the proposed changes had not previously been discussed at a public meeting, including the fee schedule. If the changes are approved, the fee for a retail marijuana sales license would be set at $22,500 per application, and would be non-refundable even if a license is not granted.

Social Equity Concerns

The first member of the public who spoke was Katharine Thomas, who did not identify her place of residence despite being requested to by Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio. [At a previous public meeting, Ms. Thomas said she was in Canada.] She objected to the license fee for hemp growers, proposed at $1,500 plus $50 per acre, which she said is high compared to other states. She said she was opposed to the renewal of the cannabis grower/cultivator licenses (public hearings on those were held earlier in the meeting) as the City has no social equity component in its licensing. She asked that the proposed amendments be further amended to include a social equity component and that the City consider doing a disparity study in relation to cannabis, and hold a workshop for the City Council on the issues surrounding it. 

Jermaine (no last name given), a Main St. resident, also spoke in favor of social equity and said he would like to be considered for a permit.

According to the National Association of Cannabis Businesses, the goal of social equity laws is to ensure that people from minorities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and discriminatory law enforcement are included in the new legal marijuana industry. Despite Ms. Thomas’ assertion, the proposed changes do include one aspect that could be considered a social equity provision: existing language that disqualifies someone from holding a license if they have been convicted of a Class A, B, or C crime or employ someone who has, is proposed to be replaced by language that disqualifies someone from holding a license if they have been convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, deception, misappropriation or fraud.

In Maine, Class A, B and C crimes are felonies, and include drug trafficking. National studies have shown that Black Americans are more likely to be arrested and convicted of drug crimes than White Americans. By including this language, the proposed changes allow those convicted of past drug crimes into the licensing process – not just for marijuana sales, but all types of commercial licenses – which could lead to greater minority participation in Sanford’s business community.

While the Council didn’t respond to public comments during the hearing, later in the meeting Councilor Ayn Hanselmann said it is her understanding that social equity laws are meant for communities that have had a disproportionate number of residents who were harmed by the war on drugs, “and maybe that’s the missing piece in Sanford.” Mayor Mastraccio said that Maine state law does not address social equity in the marijuana industry at all, and the main issue before the Council is whether to allow retail sales.

Other Public Comments

Dianne Connolly began by saying her comments were her views as a resident and not as a member of the Planning Board. She requested that adult-use marijuana retailers not be allowed in the downtown area and licenses be limited to two or three for the City.

Lindsay Holden of Landrace Cannabis, LLC, asked a few specific questions about the application process, which were answered by Planning Director Beth Della Valle.

Councilor Comments

In the New Business portion of the meeting, City Council members discussed the concept of allowing retail marijuana sales. Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy expressed concern that, while the proposed changes allow a maximum of five retail shops, a successful legal challenge to the ordinance could result in the town being flooded with them, as some other communities have been. City Manager Steve Buck responded that the City has put a great deal of time working on the issue and it has been studied by multiple law firms. He pointed to the City’s very successful marijuana grower/cultivator industry as a testament to the thoroughness of the City’s years-long process to develop the licensing procedures. He said he has very little fear of any prevailing lawsuit challenging the retail provisions.

Councilor Becky Brink, who is the newest member of the Council so was not involved in most of the discussions on the issue over the past year, said she is concerned that if everyone with a marijuana grower/cultivator license was approved for retail, it would have a negative effect on the community. Ms. Herlihy clarified that, under the proposal, a maximum of five stores would be licensed. Councilor Brink said she is also concerned about legal challenges regarding social equity.

Councilor Jonathan Martell asked if anyone from the City had been in contact with the town of Lebanon regarding issues with retail marijuana, as they have several shops there. Ms. Della Valle said she has contacted them only regarding their fee structure, but could reach out to discuss their experience with permitting as well.

Mayor Mastraccio said she is “pretty sure” she will vote against allowing retail marijuana sales when the second reading is held. She had anticipated that the state would provide an incentive in the form of local sales tax or excise tax, but that has not happened.

The full text of the proposed changes is included as part of the meeting packet (beginning on page 187), which is available on the City’s website here.

The meeting video may be viewed here.

For more information, see our previous story on the subject here.