How far from schools should retail marijuana caregivers be? After more than an hour of debate and public comment last month, the City Council will return to the question Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Under the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, retail marijuana caregiver establishments would be allowed in a slightly smaller version of the zones that currently allow retail stores. Additionally, they would be subject to setbacks from schools that, depending upon the setback size, could dramatically shrink the areas in which they would be eligible to operate.

City Planner Wayne Marshall said the Planning Board has recommended a 500-foot setback — half the distance recommended by the state — on grounds that retail marijuana caregivers should be treated no differently than other retail stores.

"They truly viewed it as being medical prescription-based product where someone would be coming in no different than a Walgreens," he said.

The council has been divided with some urging more caution around a drug-based industry that has grown up with a rapidly shifting set of rules, and others saying caregivers should be treated like pharmacies or stores that sell alcohol.

How the council views retail caregivers ultimately will affect how many of them the city sees.

Amendments to the state's medical marijuana law passed in July prohibit any new retail caregiver establishments from opening until municipalities specifically vote to allow them as a type of business.

The law grandfathers existing retail caregivers, of which Belfast has two: New World Organics and 1 Mill.

"If the city says no, those would be the only two that could continue to operate in Belfast," Marshall said.

A related ordinance would establish zones where manufacturing, testing and processing are allowed. A draft map shows these uses permitted in most of the city, with the exception of several residential zones inside the bypass.

At the suggestion of Councilor Eric Sanders, the city planning office plans to seek comments from six Belfast schools that serve children within the K-12 range. School representatives haven't contacted the city previously, which some city officials took as a sign that they don't have an opinion. But Sanders said it didn't make sense to pick a school setback without hearing from the schools themselves.

Because of Election Day, the City Council's regular meeting has been moved to Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., in City Hall, 131 Church St.