OAKLAND — New legislation on hemp-based cannabidiol has offered Oakland officials some — but not complete — clarity on regulating hemp operations within town lines. Still, John Jabar is set on bringing his extraction laboratory Mainely Processing into Oakland.
“We’re finishing it up right now,” Jabar said about the purchase of the old Guardian Building Products warehouse on Kennedy Memorial Drive. “We’re working on it — hopefully in the next week.”
Once operational, Mainely Processing will specialize in extracting cannabidiol, known as CBD, from hemp. CBD, which is a nonpsychoactive compound also found in marijuana, has been used in balms, tinctures, foods and other products to provide relief from physical pain and anxiety. It has even been marketed in dog treats.
An ongoing debate about whether hemp-based CBD should be classified as a medical product or a food product was put to an end on Wednesday when Gov. Janet Mills signed a law denoting it as the latter. A medical classification would have imposed stricter rules on hemp-based cannabidiol, per the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act. Only licensed caregivers or people with medical marijuana cards would have been allowed to purchase it.
Instead, “The nonpharmaceutical or nonmedical production, marketing, sale or distribution within the State of food, food additives or food products that contain hemp-derived cannabidiol may not be prohibited,” the new bill, L.D. 630, reads. Food establishments are consequently not allowed to “make any therapeutic claims” about hemp-based CBD without federal approval.
Hemp has been legal nationwide since December 2018, but no kind of cannabidiol has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in edible items on a federal level. As a result, in February, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services ordered food products containing CBD to be removed from shelves.
Oakland Councilor Bob Nutting, who expressed uncertainty about the legality of Jabar’s proposed business at a council meeting in late February, said that not all of his questions have been answered with the passing of L.D. 630.
“In my opinion, the law was very clear that CBD needed to be treated like marijuana and therefore it was up to the town to decide whether they wanted that business in town or not,” he said Thursday. “Now it is unclear to me. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that law has now changed. I think we’re going to hear that CBD is not under the control of municipalities and that local (government) no longer has grounds to deny the manufacturing of it.”
Town Manager Gary Bowman has been communicating with an attorney from the Maine Municipal Association for guidance on the topic.
“(The MMA lawyer) expressed that she is somewhat confused about the intention as far as manufacturing is concerned,” Nutting said. “At the present time, the council has chosen to do nothing; and I’m hopeful that before our next meeting, which is in April, we will get something more definitive from MMA and that we will get some more answers.”
In the meantime, Jabar has submitted engineering drawings to Oakland Code Enforcement Officer Dave Savage that reflect plans for the building’s first floor.
Savage was not in his office Thursday afternoon, and Dan Bradstreet, Waterville’s code enforcement officer, said he was not sure what specific permitting processes a hemp-based CBD extraction facility would have to go through on a municipal level.
“It’s so new that it hasn’t crossed my desk yet,” he said. “No one’s asked me about it. I’d have to do some research.”
Other agricultural processing facilities, Bradstreet said, have a fairly straightforward approval process.
“There’s nothing special, just any state regulations that are required. They just have to follow those and any zoning requirements for the municipality,” he said. “There are no special code enforcement types of inspections for agricultural facilities.”
Oakland does not have zoning laws.
“Other than making Mr. Jabar get a permit to operate the business and say what the business is and have a fire inspection, he’s free to do whatever he wants to do,” Nutting said.
Jabar said the Mainely Processing facility will be a Good Manufacturing Practices laboratory, meaning that it will be highly controlled according to FDA standards for safety and quality and will have a C1D1 area, a type of explosionproof room required by the state.
Nutting mentioned worries among the council about “the storage of large quantities of dry material and large volumes of probably 95 percent ethanol in an area surrounded by a couple hundred homes,” but added that there is “no law that says you can’t do that.”
At the Feb. 27 council meeting, Oakland’s fire chief, Dave Coughlin, said he did not have any cause for concern about fire hazards in the facility.
Jabar now is conducting testing at the old Harris Bakery building in Waterville, a building owned by Bragdon Farms LLC. The new structure he is eyeing in Oakland is located at 826 Kennedy Memorial Drive.
Meg Robbins — 861-9239