Caleb Trombley speaks at a Caribou City Council meeting in May. Trombley is proposing that the city revise its marijuana ordinance to allow caregiver marijuana stores, which cater to medical consumers. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou has banned retail marijuana sales since city officials began regulating the local industry, but a proposal from a young entrepreneur could change that.

Caribou’s current marijuana ordinance only allows nonprofit dispensaries and cultivation facilities to exist within city limits. Any retail business selling medical or recreational marijuana to the general public cannot be developed.

The city’s policy has placed it in sharp contrast to neighboring Presque Isle, which approved recreational marijuana sales and manufacturing in 2020. Since then, Presque Isle has welcomed four medical shops, two recreational stores and one cultivation facility. Caribou’s hesitancy to jump into the recreational industry mirrors that of most Maine towns, but city leaders will soon debate whether potential risks to Caribou’s family-friendly culture outweigh economic benefits.

Caleb Trombley, a 2018 graduate of Caribou High School, is proposing that the city change its marijuana ordinance to allow caregiver retail stores, which sell medical marijuana products only to customers with medical cards. He is suggesting that Caribou limit such businesses to two stores in the downtown district.

His business ventures come at a time when Maine has seen economic benefits of the marijuana industry, but most Aroostook County towns have not allowed marijuana businesses of any form.

At age 22, Trombley has never operated his own business but has worked in Bangor as a licensed caregiver’s assistant. He is seeking his medical marijuana caregiver’s license and wants to open a caregiver store in the former Pizza Hut building on Bennett Drive.

The location is ideal because his store would not be too close to the city’s recreation center or pre-K to grade 8 school, both located farther down Bennett Drive, he said.

Trombley submitted his first proposal to the city in January but withdrew his offer after finding out that the Planning Board could not accept his applications under the current ordinance. He has since spoken publicly to the City Council and worked with the code enforcement office to draft his proposed ordinance changes.

Unlike in Presque Isle, Trombley said that he has seen a greater need for medical marijuana services in the Caribou region. The city has two nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries — Safe Alternatives and Richardson Remedies — but those businesses cannot operate as traditional storefronts, with products that customers can easily browse.

“I have friends and family who have traveled 40 miles to an hour to get quality medicine. Sometimes they’ve gone to Presque Isle or as far [north] as Grand Isle,” Trombley said.

While Presque Isle remains the hub for Aroostook’s still-young marijuana industry, the town of Grand Isle, more than 35 miles north of Caribou, has three dispensaries, two medical and one recreational. Washburn, 11 miles southwest of Caribou, approved a recreational and medical marijuana ordinance in 2021.

To allow Trombley’s business to exist, Caribou’s Planning Board would need to revise its ordinance to specify what marijuana retail businesses the city will allow and how they will be regulated, said Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison.

Planning Board members on Thursday agreed they need to research marijuana ordinances from other Maine municipalities before revising their own. They also will consult with local law enforcement, health officers and safety inspectors before deciding if they want to allow medical and recreational stores, or just one of those two.

Board members agreed to present the pros and cons of different ordinances for councilors to consider if they allowed any retail marijuana stores to exist.

Given Caribou’s history with marijuana regulations, Murchison expects the city to take a cautious approach to the industry compared to other towns.

In 2016, when Maine narrowly passed the ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana, the question failed in Caribou by 25.13 percent, or 2,523 votes.

Caribou’s first nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary — Safe Alternatives on Presque Isle Road — opened in 2017 and was the first business of its kind in Aroostook. Richardson Remedies later opened a dispensary on Bog Road in Caribou and has a retail medical marijuana store in Presque Isle.

But not until now has Caribou considered allowing retail marijuana businesses.

The Planning Board will need to consider the potential impact that retail marijuana could have on the community, Murchison said.

“Case studies from around the state have shown problems with unchecked growth, dangerous conditions and even fires to historic downtown areas,” Murchison said. “Caribou is proud of our family-friendly community and wants to do no harm to historic residential neighborhoods and commercial areas.”

Trombley, who does not have interest in selling recreational marijuana, said that Caribou is legally allowed to limit the types and number of businesses in each city district to prevent fires and other disasters from occurring.

“It’s not something they have to jump into headfirst,” Trombley said. “All I’m suggesting is that they at least give it a try.”