The city planning board unanimously approved out a new marijuana zoning map Tuesday.
The proposal, which now goes to the City Council for consideration, would treat adult-use and medical marijuana businesses the same, allowing recreational businesses into the same zones where Portland decided to allow medical dispensaries and grows back in 2010.
The zoning proposal is just one step in Portland’s journey to rolling out commercial recreational marijuana. The city also must adopt an adult-use licensing and permitting process, but will have to wait for the state to complete writing its licensing and testing regulations before it can do so.
“We’re taking a baby steps approach here,” Planning Director Tuck O’Brien told the board.
In October, the city adopted a three-month moratorium on all cannabis businesses to make the time needed to decide where they would be allowed. The council will consider the zoning plans soon, staff said. The moratorium lapses on Dec. 13.
Under this plan, Portland would allow marijuana grows, manufacturing and testing labs in most industrial zones, as well as a commercial zone that hosts businesses that serve highway traffic. Retail stores would be allowed in most commercial zones, including downtown.
Retail stores could seek a conditional permit in business community zones where gas stations, bars and breweries are currently not allowed to protect residents from noise and traffic, but the zoning changes do not guarantee access.
Under the proposed rules, only one zone – the B-4 commercial corridor zone intended to serve highway traffic – would allow all marijuana businesses, from commercial grows to the labs that test cannabis and those that process it to retail shops.
The plan would prohibit marijuana businesses from opening within 500 feet of a public school, private school or public preschool, but doesn’t regulate how close they can be to parks, private daycares, homeless shelters or sober houses. Staff said those would be too hard to regulate.
The zoning plan would cap the size of retail stores at no more than 2,000 square feet. For grow facilities, the city would cap the size of the grow area allowed rather than the number of plants: 2,000 square feet in light industrial zones, and 7,000 square feet elsewhere.
“My clients are pleased the city has listened to our suggestions,” Amanda Melnick, a local cannabis consultant, said after Tuesday’s vote.
The plan includes a recent change that allows small-scale medical cannabis caregivers serving no more than five patients a month to operate throughout the city’s residential areas as long as they meet certain conditions and obtain a home occupation permit.
Like other home-based business, the caregivers could hire no more than one employee. Grows could not exceed 125 square feet in a multifamily dwelling or 200 square feet in a single-family home. No more than one caregiver is allowed in a single dwelling.
However, small caregivers working under home occupation permits wouldn’t be able to extract the plant oils using chemical solvents or gases in their homes, which means they would have to hire a third-party processor if they want to sell edibles, salves or tinctures.
Small-scale caregivers also would be permitted in most commercial zones.
“This is our first attempt to regulate caregivers,” said Christine Grimando, a senior planner. “We aren’t trying to snuff them out. We’re trying to set reasonable limits on scale and impact, to strike a balance that will let both caregivers and neighborhoods thrive.”
Portland voters approved legalization of adult-use cannabis by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in 2016.
Portland does not know how many medical cannabis businesses it is hosting. Caregivers don’t have to register with the city. The only ones that Portland knows about are a handful that have sought a city permit of some kind or those upsetting their neighbors.
Portland has issued two dozen building, electrical and plumbing permits for $500,000 worth of work to caregiver cultivation, retail and processing facilities since 2014. These are just the ones that have needed permits – many have not needed to get a permit to open.
Unofficial hubs are cropping up along Riverside Street, and the Forest and Warren avenue districts, with entrepreneurs converting office, warehouse and auto body shops into marijuana grow and manufacturing operations.