Monday, June 14, 2010

Eliot, Maine, voters shoot down moratorium on medical marijuana

ELIOT, Maine — Organizers behind a nonprofit entity looking to grow
and dispense medical marijuana out of a locally based clinic cleared a
substantial hurdle Saturday when town meeting voters shot down a
proposed moratorium that would have allowed elected Eliot officials more
time to study the issue before permitting such activities within the

Substantial debate over the topic preceded a simple hand vote that saw
the proposed moratorium failing to pass muster, with some voters saying
they didn't want to support a temporary ban that seemed too open-ended,
with one resident arguing it would let selectmen study the issue "in

About 100 Town Meeting voters gathered at Marshwood Middle School on
Saturday to vote on 40-plus warrant articles dealing with everything
from proposed zoning ordinance changes to budgetary items for the
2010-2011 fiscal year.

Among the most heavily debated and discussed item on the warrant was the
proposed moratorium, which represented a reaction to "inquiries" on the
part of those looking to establish a medical marijuana dispensary in

The proposed moratorium article noted the Maine Department of Health and
Human Services has indicated it plans to approve a medical marijuana
dispensary in York County by July 9 as part of a Maine Medical Marijuana
Act passed in November of 2009.

Maine DHHS data indicates a nonprofit dispensary operator will be
allowed to open up such facilities in eight districts in Maine.

Eliot officials proposed a moratorium to allow for more time for
municipal leaders to establish regulations and determine the potential
impacts of having such a facility in the community.

It stated: "The Town anticipates that such a study and review and
development of regulation will take at least six months from the
effective date of this Moratorium."

The approval of such a ban would have been a blow to the "Green
ReliefMD" organization, which is eyeing a Route 236 property as a
possible location for a dispensary clinic it hopes the Maine DHHS will

Green Relief Executive Director Ron Fousek said his organization has
been searching for a place to locate a dispensary in the York County
district with the deadline for their DHHS application rapidly
approaching at the end of the month.

Fousek said towns like Sanford, Kittery, Biddeford, North Berwick and
York already have approved moratoriums preventing them from being viable
locations in the upcoming application process.

GreenRelief is made up of a number of practitioners who will be looking
to grow medical marijuana in a secure indoor facility and allow those
with appropriate prescriptions to come pick it up. Fousek said his
organization would hand out the medical marijuana to those with proper
prescription cards with the recipients receiving a "trip ticket" that
allows them to legally take it from the facility to their homes.

Fousek addressed Eliot voters on Saturday, arguing the medicinal
benefits of the drug for those suffering with chronic illness.

He balked at talked that the introduction of such a facility would lead
to increased crime, noting hundreds of studies have proven it as an
effective drug for the treatment of everything from chronic illness to
addictions to more serious drugs.

"More is known about this plant than any other in the world," Fousek

Eric Friberg — another practitioner from GreenRelief and Gulf War
veteran who has used marijuana for medical purposes — noted the
dispensary will not be a place were drugs are dealt to anyone who wants

"We are going to be heavily regulated ... give us a chance," Friberg

Brian Enger — another practitioner — told the voters they have
little to worry about.

"We are not here to be pot dealers," Enger said.

Some Eliot residents expressed concerns that Maine laws regulating
dispensary operators allow for a 24-hour window before they come in and
check that they are operating correctly and growing within the set
guidelines spelled out by the law.

"I'm very concerned about the public safety aspects," said State Rep.
Sarah "Sally" Lewin of Eliot.

Eliot Police Chief Theodor Short didn't express any overarching concerns
about such a facility coming to town, but did note his department is
looking at how other communities have handled such facilities.

He said it isn't for his department to decide whether a moratorium was

Others expressed support for such clinics.

Janice Cerabona — a local voter — was nearly in tears when she
recalled her daughter's pain as she struggled with diabetes
complications that took her life in 2005.

"Conventional medicine could not help her," Cerabona said.

Others opposed the proposed moratorium simply because its wording didn't
prescribe a set amount of time for the town leaders to review the issue.

Budget Committee Chair John Reed said the proposed moratorium appeared
to amount to a "not in my backyard" response to Maine's approval of such

He said the moratorium as proposed would allow the study to take place
of an "infinite" amount of time.

Residents eventually voted against the moratorium.

Fousek said the vote will let his organization at least apply to open a
dispensary in Eliot.

He said the group is looking to open their clinic in a building on a
property near the junction of routes 236 and 101.

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