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Portland approves recreational marijuana ordinance, includes cap on 20 retail stores

The Portland City Council has approved a local licensing system that allows up to 20 retailers in the city. Businesses will be selected on a merit-based system.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council voted 8-1 to approve a licensing ordinance and rules for recreational cannabis businesses late Monday night, May 19.

As part of the ordinance, the city approved a plan to cap the number of marijuana retail licenses at 20. The city also approved a merit-based score sheet which will help the city determine which businesses receive licenses.

City Councilor Justin Costa says, "There were two things we wanted to avoid: we didn't want it to be 'if you beat your competitor through the doors of city hall by five minutes' then you win, and we didn't want it to be a lottery system. So that really left us with developing a scoring system and I think we had a lot of robust debate about that."

Costa says the rubric is a "compromise" of a broad range of viewpoints.

"I don't expect that anyone on the council is in 100 percent agreement on what we finalized," says Costa. 

Under the licensing plan, the 20 highest scoring applications would land a retail license. The maximum score is 34 total points.

The categories in the proposed scoring matrix and their point values are:

6 points: at least 51 percent of business is owned by socially or economically disadvantaged individuals;

6 points: owner has experience running a highly regulated business, like marijuana or banking;

5 points: at least 51 percent of business is owned by Mainer of five years or more;

4 points: applicant has run a state or locally licensed Maine business for at least five years;

4 points: applicant owns proposed retail location or has leased it for at least five years;

 4 points: applicant agrees to do three of the four: create five full-time jobs paying at least $15 an hour, offer workers paid time off and health benefits; conduct employee sensitivity training; or contribute 1 percent of net profits to the city for youth substance abuse education or prevention.

3 points: applicant is a registered medical marijuana caregiver of at least two years;

2 points: applicant can prove at least $150,000 in liquid assets.

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Some critics of the plan believe there should not be a 20 license cap at all.

Marijuana legalization advocate David Boyer says, "We think it should be licensed like any other business. If someone wants to open up a brewery, they can! They're not limited in that regard."

Boyer says there are plans to push back on the ordinance. 

"There is a group of activists and industry members and operators that are seriously considering a lawsuit. They're seriously considering a new ordinance where we collect about 1,500 signatures, so we're on the ballot this November during the presidential election," says Boyer. 

For now, Councilor Costa says just 20 licenses are right for Portland.

"It's much easier to ramp things up than to do the opposite," says Costa. 

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