Portland City Councilor Kimberly Cook, seen here in a BDN file photo, offered an amendment to a proposed marijuana business moratorium that allowed applicants already in the pipeline to move forward.

Faced with opposition by entrepreneurs who said they have invested time and money into marijuana-related startups, Portland city councilors on Monday night dialed back a plan to temporarily ban new businesses in the burgeoning industry.

The moratorium on new medicinal marijuana shops, growing operations and manufacturing facilities was initially proposed to be retroactive to July 9, a move which would have frozen a small handful of new marijuana business projects already pending before the city.

But an amendment offered by Councilor Kimberly Cook to remove the moratorium’s retroactivity — allowing those startups to continue on — seemed to disperse opposition to the measure.

Portland’s temporary ban aims to bridge a gap in regulation between July 9, when the Legislature passed a new law allowing a wider range of marijuana-related businesses, and at least Dec. 13, when state standards for most of those businesses go into effect.

The decision comes with the possibility of an 180-day extension, but does not affect existing marijuana businesses or individual medical pot caregivers, who grow plants in their own homes.

The state is also readying for the sale of recreational marijuana, which has been held up in the Legislature since the drug was legalized in a 2016 referendum but could begin as soon as 2019.

[Maine tries again to enact major overhaul of medical marijuana rules]

Finally approved in July, the overhaul of the state’s medical marijuana program allows for more dispensaries and for individual caregivers, who sell pot to people with a doctor’s prescription, to serve more patients.

Portland’s new rules were sponsored by City Manager Jon Jennings. They will block new dispensaries from opening in the city and likewise place a temporary ban on a variety of types of marijuana manufacturing facilities, including testing and extraction operations.

City attorney Anne Torregrossa and planning director Jeff Levine told the council the moratorium protects the city against marijuana businesses that may sprout up in the four months between when they were legalized and when they face more stringent state restrictions, a gap that could allow the businesses to be forever grandfathered into a regulatory environment with few limits.

As of late September, there were at least five applications for various types of marijuana businesses pending before the city, public records show.

Attorney Hannah King told the council she represents three of the applicants, and said they are seeking to do business within the city’s industrial zones, which already feature safeguards against odor nuisances and heavy traffic, among other concerns the city and state might want to address through new regulations.

Cook said she reviewed the pending applications and was comfortable allowing them to proceed.

Her amendment striking the retroactive quality of the moratorium was approved unanimously, 8-0, as was the larger ban as amended. Councilor Spencer Thibodeau recused himself from the vote and left at the beginning of the discussion.

Follow BDN Portland on Facebook for the latest news from Greater Portland.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.