Oxford medical marijuana battle nearing end?

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OXFORD — A long, expensive and complicated legal battle to resolve the disputed awarding of the third and final medical marijuana permit in Oxford last fall may finally be coming to an end.

Attorney Jeffrey Wilson of Braun & Wilson in Paris told the Advertiser Democrat Monday that a tentative consent agreement between the Board of Selectmen and his client ActNow GC, has been reached. It is expected to resolve the year-long dispute between the town and his client over the awarding of the town’s third medical marijuana permit.

“The parties have tentatively agreed to a resolution,” Wilson said of the legal action he initiated on behalf of his client last fall after the town granted and later revoked the third medical marijuana permit awarded to Stevenson Enterprises Inc., owner of the property at 517 Main Street which ActNow GC leases. The third permit was then awarded to another party.

Although the Final Consent Judgment, approved recently in Androscoggin Superior Court, does not say that the limit on medical marijuana permits has been eliminated, it allows the use on the Stevenson property to be permitted as a nonconforming use, according to Town Manager Butch Asselin.

A proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would eliminate the current medical marijuana permit limitation to three will be voted on by Annual Town Meeting on June 9, he said.

A judge in the Androscoggin Superior Court, where the litigation is being heard, has granted a stay, or suspension of the case, while the two parties go through the consent agreement process, said Wilson.

All parties have agreed, but the Final Consent Judgment has not been signed, said Asselin Tuesday.

Selectmen Chairman Pete Laverdiere released a statement Tuesday morning saying, “The selectmen unanimously felt that signing the consent agreement was in the best interest of the town and ActNow GC. Further litigation on the matter would not have been beneficial for either side.”

The Final Consent Judgment between the plaintiff, ActNow GC, and defendants, the Town of Oxford and Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman, orders that the plaintiff and its agents be allowed to locate and operate a Medical Marijuana Cultivation Facility at the 517 Main Street property pursuant to the Oxford Planning Board’s April 13, 2017 decision to grant approval to Stevenson Enterprises Inc. for such use.

The agreement also vacates the Board of Appeals October 3, 2017 decision that reversed the Planning Board’s decision on the Stevenson Enterprises property.

The Final Consent Judgment also releases the town and its officers and employees, from all current and future claims accrued by Stevenson up to the date of the signing of the release, including claims for attorney fees and any other claims in the two lawsuits that were filed against the town in this matter.

The Final Consent Judgment must be signed by the town and Stevenson Enterprises Inc. A release and waiver form must also be signed by the town and Savage Flower Enterprises, Inc. the sub-lessee of the property at 517 Main Street

The action appears to open up the way for ActNow GC President Ricky Beaudet to proceed with plans he initiated more than a year ago to sublease a building on the property he rents from Stevenson Enterprises, Inc. at 517 Main Street, to the medical marijuana grower, Savage Flower Enterprises, Inc.

Long Ordeal

The legal action against the town was initiated on October 6, 2017 after Beaudet, through his attorney, filed an initial complaint in Oxford County Superior Court against the town of Oxford and Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman asking for an emergency injunction to prohibit the town from re-issuing the third and final medical marijuana permit until the legal complaint and all appeals were heard and resolved.

That action followed the October 3 Board of Appeals decision to overturn a previous decision by the Planning Board which issued the permit to Stevenson Enterprises Inc., who had leased the property to ActNow CG Inc., a plumbing and heating supply store owned by Beaudet, who subleased one of three buildings to two individuals who intended to cultivate medical marijuana.

The third medical marijuana grow permit was the awarded by the Planning Board in November 2017 to HBC LLC, located at 7 Oxford Homes Lane, after that company appealed the Stevenson Enterprises, Inc. decision to the Appeals Board.

The Appeals Board determined the Planning Board did not have the right to issue the permit to Stevenson Enterprises, Inc. because the building where the grow operation would take place did not have the proper setback as required under the town’s Medical Marijuana Ordinance.

That set off the legal action in Oxford Superior Court that was later transferred to Androscoggin Superior Court in Auburn.

In that complaint, Wilson called the action by the Appeals Board “devastating” to Stevenson Enterprises Inc., ActNow GC Inc. and their tenants and families.

Because of the reliance on the Planning Board’s approval, Wilson said in the complaint that Beaudet had “potentially locked himself into a ten-year lease agreement with Stevenson to own real estate making him liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The sale price for the three buildings was negotiated based on the final approval of the permit.

Additionally, the complaint stated, ActNow GC’s tenants were locked into a three-year lease for an approved use that was then vacated due to the town’s action on the permit. Both have spent thousands of dollars in construction, according to the complaint, and ActNow GC could potentially lose its monthly rental income, which is used in part to pay his real estate purchase.

The complaint also stated, the tenant made plans to move to Maine and purchased homes in Oxford with every expectation of starting their medical marijuana business.

Wilson said last fall, that the suit could amount to $1 million in damages against the town.

Wilson, who argued for months that a simple resolution to the situation would be to issue a fourth medical marijuana permit, said without question, the legal fees alone to both the town and his client, will be well in the thousands.

Town Meeting 

On April 5, the Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to certify an amendment to the permit restriction on medical marijuana cultivation and dispensaries. (There is still a moratorium on retail marijuana facilities.)

Town Clerk Beth Olsen said the Board of Selectmen are expected to hold a special meeting on April 26 to approve the warrant articles that will be acted on at the June 9 Annual Town Meeting, beginning at 10 a.m. in the Oxford Elementary School cafeteria. Until that April 26 meeting, it is not certain the amendment will be on the warrant for voter action.

The medical marijuana grow permit issue began in April of 2016 when 14 voters at a Special Town Meeting agreed to revise the ordinance by reducing the prohibited zone for medical marijuana grow operations near a public or private school from 1,000 feet to 500 feet in order to meet state requirements, restricting medical marijuana grow facilities to a mixed-use zone, and limiting the number of grow facilities to three – the same as the number of liquor stores allowed at that time in Oxford.

The ordinance currently regulates medical grow operations that are large enough to be required to register with the town. It does not include individuals with medical marijuana permits or caregiver licenses but does include certain types of medical grow operations that produce larger amounts of marijuana to supply various dispensaries around the state.

The proposed changes to the Ordinance in part would delete a part of Section 22 C that states, “No more than 3 Medical Marijuana Registered Facility and/or three (3) Marijuana Cultivation Facility shall be located in the Town of Oxford. The Medical Marijuana Registered Dispensary and Medical Marijuana Cultivation Facility shall be located on the same property that shall be under common ownership.”

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net