Gardiner considers extending retail pot shop ban

GARDINER — The City Council has decided to move ahead with an extension of a temporary ban on allowing additional marijuana retail shops in the city’s downtown neighborhood.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Gardiner elected officials agreed to set a public hearing for its next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 17, which is before the current moratorium expires.

“We have made a lot of progress,” said Debby Willis, chairwoman of the Planning Board and the Ordinance Review Committee, both of which will review city regulations.

“We would appreciate an additional amount of time to finish what we’re doing,” Willis said.

In October, city elected officials put in place a temporary ban on approving new marijuana retail shops after city residents expressed concern at the number of shops that had opened in downtown Gardiner. That ban is expected to expire next month.

The moratorium was intended to give Gardiner’s Planning Board and Ordinance Review Committee time to take another look at the regulations they had sent to the City Council for consideration about six months earlier.

When the adult-use market opened Oct. 9, eight shops were licensed to sell recreational cannabis. But because of a shortage of legally tagged, tested and taxed adult-use pot, only six opened that day, and none in Kennebec County, where only six of the 29 municipalities have opted in under state law to allow a marijuana business to operate. Fairfield, Gardiner, Hallowell, Manchester and Waterville allow retail, growing, manufacturing and testing facilities for marijuana, while Readfield allows only growing.

Among the recommendations, which the City Council adopted in advance of the state of Maine launching the adult-use marijuana market later in the year, was the requirement that cannabis retailers be no less than 200 feet apart. In downtown Gardiner, that allowed for five shops.

That prompted concern on the part of city residents and members of the Gardiner Thrives coalition about the normalization of marijuana and its impact on children in the Gardiner area.

They have called attention to the results of a survey administered by the Gardiner-area school district to students that shows that marijuana is already easily accessible in the area, and that self-reported marijuana use among students is highest among Gardiner Area High School juniors and seniors.

Even with the temporary ban in place, any shop that was already approved or had submitted its paperwork was unaffected when the moratorium was enacted.

City Manager Christine Landes said because this is a moratorium extension, two readings and two public hearings are not required.

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