WILTON — The Select Board authorized a marijuana business to apply to be the town’s first dispensary Feb. 1.
The dispensary application was not on the agenda. However, it was authorized to move forward after John Black, owner of Earth Keeper,a marijuana cultivation and medical retail business, raised concerns about the delayed decision.
Town Manager Rhonda Irish explained that a retail store and two cultivation facilities in town want to “transfer to the dispensary category.”
“It’s not a new category by the state, but it’s been expanded,” Irish said.
According to the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy, “the most notable difference (between a dispensary and a caregiver retail store) is that dispensaries can grow an unlimited number of marijuana plants.”
Irish said the transfer requires approval from the town in some way before the applicant can go to the state — at which point the town can’t rescind their decision.
Irish explained over the phone that businesses applying for a dispensary license get authorization first from the town and then are issued a license by the state. This differs from applications for adult and medical use businesses, which have the opposite process with final approval by the town.
Select Board Chairman David Leavitt said the town’s legal counsel believes Wilton’s ordinance, as it stands, does not allow the dispensary category and there “needs to be some change [to the ordinance] before we can move forward.”
Selectperson Tom Saviello said he disagreed with that interpretation because “we voted to opt in as a community.”
Saviello was referencing the 2019 town meeting where Wilton voters opted in “to allow the operation of … medical marijuana uses” including registered caregiver retail stores, manufacturing facilities, testing facilities and registered dispensaries.
“I will be voting for … anybody that wants to have this [dispensary license],” Saviello said. “It was very clear what we did that night [that the town opted in]. So we don’t need to wait and change the ordinance.”
Irish noted that the town attorney’s interpretation was that “she didn’t like the wording” of the ordinance.
There is no mention of the term “dispensary” in the amended version of the ordinance approved in 2021. However, Irish said the town reached out to the state and were told “a dispensary fits under medical marijuana” authorized in the ordinance. Still, the state advised Irish to reach out to the town’s legal counsel.
Selectperson Keith Swett asked what the “ramifications” would be for Wilton if the board was “wrong” by authorizing the dispensary application to move forward.
Irish didn’t know.
“Who’s gonna sue who?” Saviello added. “The state is really the only one that could come in and do something about the dispensaries.”
Black said he is concerned about the length of time he’s waited for the board to make a decision. He added that he has waited three or four months for approval since he first filed the application.
“We’re opening up multiple locations in other towns … and this is kind of crisis mode. The time frame in which this has taken is too long,” Black said. “Now I’m running into other problems, because now I can’t produce enough product for these potential retail stores that I’m going to be opening.”
Irish said that though the ordinance can’t be amended until the June town meeting, it’s up to the select board to move forward with a decision.
Ultimately, Leavitt was “not opposed to acting” on this issue. However, he felt that the board should not take action because the item was not on the agenda (with discussion that sprouted from an agenda item to approve marijuana license renewals).
Selectperson Tiffany Maiuri said the board was “splitting hairs” over this issue.
“I believe that we did opt in … I don’t want to hold up our businesses. The intent is there,” Maiuri said. “I have a hard time not moving forward [and] not allowing businesses to thrive.”
Despite Leavitt’s concerns over procedure, Saviello made a motion to issue authorization for the dispensary license with a form signed by Code Enforcement Office Charlie Lavin.
The board voted 3-2 to issue the license: Saviello, Maiuri and Phil Hilton voted yes; Swett and Leavitt voted no, due to concerns with the process by which the issue and motion were raised.