HERMON, Maine — Residents who complained they could smell and see marijuana grown by neighboring medical pot caregivers have led town officials to consider imposing stricter regulations on growing the plants.
The issue primarily involves medical marijuana caregivers who grow plants in their backyards, Town Manager Roger Raymond said in a recent interview. Complaints, in some cases, came from parents concerned about the close proximity of the plants to their children.
“People are saying, ‘In my neighborhood it smells like pot all the time.’ If you’ve got a young family with kids and you’ve got one of these gardens sitting, say, a few feet away from your property line, tell me how you’d feel,” Raymond said.
Raymond declined to identify the people who complained and said he does not know how many of Maine’s 1,675 licensed medical marijuana growers, also called caregivers, are located in town because the state does not make that information public.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, confirmed the identities of growers are confidential.
“We are forbidden by statute and rule to release the names of caregivers to anyone except law enforcement officers, and that information has to be relevant to a current investigation,” DHHS spokesman David Sorenson said in a recent email.
The Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act allows caregivers to serve up to five patients at a time. Each caregiver may maintain up to six flowering plants, and 12 not yet mature plants, per patient. Each patient can buy up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every 15 days.
According to the law, the plants must be kept in an enclosed, locked facility — except while the caretaker is moving the plants to his or her own property in order to cultivate them. Access to the growing area is limited to the caregiver, although invited elected officials may enter for educational purposes, emergency services personnel and those who need to enter to make repairs or do construction.
The law requires that caregivers be at least 21 years old and free of disqualifying drug crime convictions.
“It’s a matter of if it’s well sited and it’s permitted by the law, that’s fine,” Raymond said. “But locating an outside garden to grow your crop and put a 6-foot fence around it — but putting it a few feet from a neighbor’s home — just isn’t fair.
“As a parent, you think about this [child] who might want to partake and is looking at these luscious plants growing next door. As a parent, you’re worried about it,” he said.
While he has not received any formal complaints from neighbors of caregivers or patients, Sgt. James Kennedy of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, who supervises the town’s patrol officers, agreed it’s an issue.
“Not everybody, believe it or not, in Maine is happy [about] this marijuana law,” he said. “So you’ve got neighbors that are seeing it go on. They have kids, and they don’t like it, and it causes some issues because I can’t do anything about it.”
Raymond said that when he asked the town’s legal counsel to look into what the town can do to better regulate how and where caretakers can grow their medicine, the answer was not much.
“The bottom line is there’s two things that we can regulate,” he said. “We can regulate the setback, as long as it’s reasonable, and the height of the fence.”
To that end, Raymond is recommending increasing the minimum fence height for outdoor grows from 6 to 10 feet and establishing a 100-foot setback from property lines. Raymond noted these are decisions for the Town Council to make.
The legal opinion that the town received from its attorney, Ed Bearor, noted that it is not clear if municipalities can go beyond those measures.
“By administrative rule, municipalities may impose fence height and setback requirement for outdoor cultivation areas,” Bearor stated. “The extent to which municipalities may further regulate patients’ and caregivers’ medical marijuana cultivation pursuant to their home rule authority has not yet been tested in the Maine courts and remains unclear”
The town also is looking at creating “safe zones” around schools, child care facilities and recreation programs, Raymond said.
If approved, that measure would prohibit the growing of medical marijuana within a 1,000-foot radius of those establishments, he said.
Raymond said that the new rules could go before the council for a vote within a month or so. A public hearing would be required as part of that process. Current caretakers would be grandfathered.