AUGUSTA — A proposal to sell medical marijuana to patients from a camper-trailer prompted city officials to enact a moratorium on most retail sales from vehicles.
The Planning Board will also consider adopting an ordinance to permanently ban such sales in the city.
Planning Board members spoke in favor of a recommendation from city staff Tuesday to ban retail sales of medical marijuana — and most other types of retail sales — from vehicles. They also want to require retail business — other than seasonal sales such at Christmas trees — be conducted in a building.
A public hearing will be scheduled at the Planning Board’s next meeting on Dec. 8, said Chairperson Alison Nichols, to hear out those opposed to a permanent ban.
The conversation was prompted by a proposal from Giovanni DelVecchio, an Augusta resident and owner of Weed on Wheels Maine, at the Augusta City Council meeting in October. DelVecchio did not attend Tuesday’s workshop session of the Planning Board.
At the October council meeting, he said he was renovating a camper trailer that he planned to park at a permanent location and sell medical marijuana to patients, once he obtained a license from the city. DelVecchio urged councilors to keep an open mind and sought to assure them his business could be done safely and in line with other medical marijuana operations in buildings in Augusta already. He said he could remove the wheels from the trailer to help address the city’s security concerns.
“It’s easy to say no to something we don’t understand,” DelVecchio told city councilors. “At the end of the day I’m trying to be the Augusta guy, taking care of veterans and medicinal people in a very safe and effective manner that’s going to be safe for our township. And also to launch this, nationally, with being the only ones that have really done this initiative.”
Planning Board members expressed concerns about such facilities not having access to water and sewer and the aesthetics of allowing marijuana to be sold from a camper. Their most-repeated concern, however, was the security of selling and keeping marijuana in a camper — which could be stolen itself or more easily broken into than a building.
“I’m just really hard-pressed to see how those types of units would be secure enough to feel like you could go home at the end of the day… and leave all my product in it overnight and come back tomorrow” and it will still be there, said Cathy Cobb, a Planning Board member who is also the former head of the state’s medical marijuana program and a board member of Wellness Connection. “You know they’re about as secure from burglary as nothing. The aesthetics of it too.
“Medical marijuana is a real product that people use, for serious medical conditions. And we spent years after it was first approved for sale in Maine to legitimize it and make sure all the activities were done in an above board location,” she added. “To look at, you know, a travel trailer sitting up on blocks isn’t the setting I feel legitimate patients would tend to want to go to, unless it’s pure convenience.”
Other Planning Board members also expressed concerns and spoke in favor of the recommendation from Development Director Matt Nazar and Deputy City Planner Betsy Poulin to ban retail sales from vehicles.
Ward 4 City Councilor Eric Lind said his concerns about allowing sales of medical marijuana — the city does not allow the sale of recreational marijuana — from vehicles included safety and security, and the potential for such sites to not have bathrooms hooked up to utilities. But he agreed the city should have a public hearing and give DelVecchio and any other proponents a chance to make their case.
“Whether you agree or disagree, and I have many concerns with this,” Lind said, “I do think it would be a good thing to allow that person to tell his story.”
The proposed ban on retail sales would not impact businesses already in operation or those regulated by other licensing processes.
Poulin said Tuesday that food trucks would not be impacted by the proposal, because they are already licensed by the state and need victualers licenses from the city.
The memo from Poulin and Nazar suggests seasonal retail businesses, such as sales of Christmas trees from parking lots where the seller may use a camper, could be accommodated with a licensing process for mobile retail vendors that could provide them with one 120-day license per year to sell from a specific site.