BELFAST — City Council accepted the first reading of a recreational marijuana ordinance that excludes retail sales at its Dec. 7 meeting. Last summer Origins Cannabis approached the city about opening a cultivation facility at the former Moss building on Route 1.

The Planning Board drafted the ordinance in five separate meetings from September to November, including an October public hearing prompted by a request from the council in August. The state’s Marijuana Legalization Act requires towns to opt into the legislation. Towns can choose to opt in without an ordinance of their own or can create their own ordinance building on the legislation.

The state has five tiers for cultivation based on operation size. Tier 1 allows up to 500 square feet of mature plant canopy, tier 2 allows up to 2,000 square feet, tier 3 allows up to 7,000 square feet, tier 4 allows up to 20,000 square feet and nursery cultivation allows up to 1,000 square feet of mature plant canopy and unlimited marijuana seedlings.

The city has identified zoning districts where cultivation, testing and manufacturing are allowed. Tier 1, Tier 2 and nursery operations, which the city refers to as small-scale, will be allowed in almost all districts outside the bypass. Tier 3 and 4 operations, which the city refers to as large-scale, will be allowed only in two zones — Route 1 South and Searsport Avenue Commercial.

Testing and manufacturing are allowed in all areas that allow cultivation, but there will be no adult use marijuana activity allowed for districts inside the bypass. Cultivation will also be barred in certain smaller districts on the south side of the city near Route 1 outside the bypass.

Large-scale operations are limited to just two districts because the board had concerns about odors associated with marijuana, City Planner Jon Boynton said in an interview after the meeting. The board wants the city to be able to address any issues that might come up regarding odor before possibly expanding those operations into other districts.

The city will use state review standards for issues like security, odors and operations, Boynton said. To be permitted in the city, an applicant must prove it has or can receive all approvals from the state and must remain in compliance with all state licenses.

Applicants will have to comply with city sign regulations, as well as standards set by the state for marijuana businesses, he said. There is currently no proposed application fee in the ordinance specific to a marijuana operation.

While the plant is still federally illegal, Maine voters approved the Marijuana Legalization Act to legalize recreational use. In early 2017, the Legislature placed a moratorium on parts of the law regarding retail sales and taxation so it could create rules and resolve issues. Four years after state residents approved the legislation, it was finally legal to sell marijuana in October 2020.

Councilor Mary Mortier said there is time to approve the retail sale of marijuana in the future. “I think this is a case of walking, standing up and walking a little bit after crawling, and there’s time for this in its proper time.”

Councilor Mike Hurley said he does not have an issue with the retail sale of recreational marijuana and does not think it will be much different than the medical marijuana dispensaries that are open in town. “As far as I’m concerned, at this point it’s not yes or no, it’s where and how,” he said.

Councilor Neal Harkness said there are a lot of businesses people can object to for health or moral reasons, but he does not think it is up to the council to tell people what types of legal businesses they can engage in. Ultimately businesses will fail if people in Belfast do not support them.

“There’s all kinds of things that all kinds of people don’t believe should be made available,” he said. “I don’t believe that it is the job of the council to tell people whether or not they can engage in legal businesses within the city without there being some extraordinary reasons not to.”

Councilors will vote on the final reading of the ordinance at their Dec. 21 meeting. If approved, it will go into effect once the city registers the decision with the state soon after the meeting.