Town Planner Kyle Drexler (center) addresses members of the Town Council's Community Development Committee July 14, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / The Penobscot Times

No new recreational marijuana shops will be approved in part of Orono for the foreseeable future after a Town Council vote extended a temporary ban on the shops there for another six months.

The extended moratorium, approved Monday, gives the town more time to fix an ordinance that has effectively boxed out marijuana shops from one of the two zones where they were supposed to be allowed to locate. The ordinance has also potentially limited the town to just one shop in the other zone.

Since Orono voters opted the town into Maine’s growing recreational marijuana market in March, officials have grappled with conflicting language in the ordinance they wrote that establishes where in town the shops can open.

Initially, the Town Council enacted an ordinance that allowed recreational pot shops in two commercial districts in town — one that covers portions of Stillwater Avenue around Interstate 95 and another that includes Park Street as it heads toward Rangeley Road on the University of Maine campus.

The ordinance, however, effectively limited marijuana shops to just one location on Park Street that’s not currently available, Town Planner Kyle Drexler said. That’s because town rules aimed to keep marijuana shops from locating close to “sensitive locations,” such as UMaine, places of worship and child care centers. In addition to UMaine, Park Street is home to the Islamic Center of Maine and a child care center.

The council’s Community Development Committee started the process of revising the marijuana ordinance in July and moved forward with a plan to drop the Park Street zone from the list of allowed locations altogether. That revised language, however, still has to go before the committee and the full council.

“Allowing the shops in a very small, narrowly defined space…and then creating setback issues that make [the shops allowed] in one little parcel over here is going to cause incredible headaches,” Town Manager Sophie Wilson said at that July meeting.

In the Stillwater Avenue zone, the first recreational marijuana shop approved to open in Orono cleared its final local hurdle in August after the council gave unanimous approval for a license to operate.

Firestorm, owned by Salvatore Faro III and his business partner Mohammed “Moe” Ibrahem, is another location of the owners’ existing recreational marijuana store on Outer Hammond Street in Bangor. The new Orono location is housed inside the University Mall on Stillwater Avenue.

After gaining local approval, it would only need approval from the state.

However, Firestorm could be Orono’s only marijuana shop to open depending on what the final version of the town’s marijuana ordinance looks like. That’s because the town’s rules currently require that any marijuana stores be located at least 500 feet away from others. That language leaves potentially one or two other lots in the Stillwater Avenue zone that could be designed for marijuana shops.

Firestorm was also the first recreational marijuana store to open its doors in Bangor after the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy licensed the shop to change from medical to recreational. The city now has a handful of marijuana shops, with another proposed.

The Orono Town Council initially adopted a moratorium on shops in the Park Street zone in April. The council’s vote on Monday continues the pause until March 2021 — a full year after voters opted the town into recreational marijuana sales.

The Town Council will discuss a draft of the revised marijuana ordinance at its next meeting on Sept. 20.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...