The Dresden Planning Board unanimously voted to approve a conditional use permit for a medical marijuana greenhouse on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
Brian Fifield, of Casco, submitted the application for the construction of the greenhouse on his 50-acre property on Dodge Road in Dresden.
The planning board considered the project an agriculture products and processing use under the town’s land use and development ordinance. The use requires a conditional use permit from the planning board and a building permit from the town’s code enforcement officer, which Fifield will need to obtain.
Fifield is registered with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to participate in the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program as a caregiver with growing rights. He has been participating in the program for the past four years and currently provides for five patients.
The board also included a condition on the permit that Fifield must only use the greenhouse to cultivate medical marijuana plants.
In November, Maine voters will consider a referendum question which would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana if passed.
Fifield said he has “no intent or interest” in growing recreational marijuana.
“I have no plans of going to recreational. I want to help my patients and that’s it,” Fifield said.
Members of the board met on Fifield’s property for a site walk prior to the public hearing. Almost 20 Dresden residents asked questions about Fifield’s planned operation, with many expressing concerns about the security of Fifield’s property and the safety of neighboring properties.
An 8-foot privacy fence will be built around the greenhouse. After construction of the greenhouse is complete, there would be no trucks or visitors to the property.
Fifield said DHHS has strict rules regarding the growth of medical marijuana. Fifield is the only person allowed in the garden. The site is also subject to spot inspections. If Fifield is not in compliance, DHHS can revoke his permit to grow as a caregiver.
Fifield will also have security features on site, including security cameras around the property. Fifield said someone remains on the property at all times.
Fifield said many of the strains of marijuana he grows do not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the principle psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. He works with each patient to determine which strain meets his or her particular needs.
Concerns about the size of the greenhouse were also expressed by residents. Since Fifield’s project was classified as a major project, the greenhouse could be more than 5,000 square feet. Fifield said he was not sure how big the greenhouse will be.
Dresden Planning Board Chairman Jeff Pierce said Fifield’s project was classified as a major project due to the amount of square footage existing equipment on the property takes up.
In addition, a major project has a higher “burden of proof” than a minor project and requires more information from the applicant, Pierce said.
Fifield will still have to obtain a building permit from the Dresden code enforcement officer in order to build the greenhouse, Pierce said. In order to obtain the building permit, Fifield will need to determine the size of the greenhouse.
Although a portion of the property extends into Alna, the facility and road access to the property are on the Dresden side of the property. Pierce said Alna officials told him they have no concerns about the project.
The planning board also decided against imposing a $625 fee for starting the project before it had gone through the application process with the town.
At the board’s previous meeting in August, the board split on whether it should assess a fee on Fifield for starting to grow his plants prior to coming before the town.
“He had all of his permits from the state, but he did not get his conditional use permit from the town for agriculture product processing, which we do have an ordinance for,” Pierce said.
Efforts to contact Fifield had been unsuccessful because the town had outdated contact information. Once Fifield was informed that he needed to come before the town for the conditional use permit, Pierce said Fifield was “very responsive” and went above and beyond to provide information for the town.
Following the board’s decision on Fifield’s application, Pierce said the planning board should consider discussing how it will handle applications regarding marijuana-growing operations, including recreational marijuana operations in the event the referendum question passes.
“(Fifield) was super responsive and forthcoming, and I commend him for coming to us and being honest, but we might not get that every time,” Pierce said. “Agricultural products and processing use, that’s the only thing we can look at in our ordinances for guidance. We really don’t have a lot to go by here.”