CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou has banned retail marijuana sales since city officials began regulating the local industry, but a proposal from a young entrepreneur could change that.
Caribou’s current marijuana ordinance only allows for-profit dispensaries and grow facilities to exist within city limits. A retail store that sells medical or recreational marijuana to the general public cannot be developed.
The city’s policies have placed it in sharp contrast to neighboring Presque Isle, which has approved recreational marijuana sales and manufacturing in 2020. Since then, Presque Isle has housed four medical stores, two recreational stores, and a growing facility. Caribou’s reluctance to enter the leisure industry mirrors that of most Maine cities, but city leaders will soon debate whether potential risks to Caribou’s family-friendly culture outweigh the economic benefits.
Caleb Trombley, a 2018 graduate of Caribou High School, suggests the city change its marijuana ordinance to allow retail stores for caregivers to sell medical marijuana products only to customers who are sick. He suggests that Caribou limit such deals to two downtown stores.
His business ventures come at a time when Maine has seen the economic benefits of the marijuana industry, but most cities in Aroostook County have not allowed marijuana operations of any kind.
At the age of 22, Trombley never ran his own business, instead working in Bangor as a licensed nursing assistant. He is pursuing his license as a medical marijuana nurse and wants to open a nursing service in the former Pizza Hut building on Bennett Drive.
The location is ideal because his store would not be too close to the city’s recreation center or preschool through 8th grade, both of which are further down Bennett Drive, he said.
Trombley submitted his first proposal to the city in January, unaware of the current retail ban. He has since spoken publicly before City Council and worked with the Code Enforcement Office to draft his proposed ordinance changes.
Unlike Presque Isle, Trombley said he sees a greater need for medical marijuana services in the Caribou region. The city has two nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries — Safe Alternatives and Richardson Remedies — but these businesses can’t function as traditional storefronts with products that customers can easily browse.
“I have friends and family who have traveled 40 miles to an hour to get quality medicine. Sometimes they went to Presque Isle or so [north] like Grand Isle,” Trombley said.
While Presque Isle remains the center of Aroostook’s fledgling marijuana industry, the town of Grand Isle, more than 35 miles north of Caribou, has three dispensaries, two medical and one recreational. Washburn, 11 miles southwest of Caribou, approved a recreational and medical marijuana ordinance in 2021.
For Trombley’s business to continue, the Caribou City Council would have to vote to pass the state’s marijuana laws on adult marijuana use, said Ken Murchison, officer in charge of the code’s enforcement. The move would allow the city to sanction recreational businesses if they ever wanted to go that route.
There is no guarantee that Caribou’s planning committee will approve Trombley’s motions and propose ordinance changes to the city council, Murchison said. In January, the board of directors halted Trombley’s initial application for a business license due to the city’s current marijuana ordinance.
If the board votes in favor of Trombley’s proposed changes, it would need to consult with local law enforcement, the city manager and hospital officials to discuss potential health and safety risks, and then hold a public hearing. This process can take several months.
In any case, Murchison expects Caribou to be more cautious about the marijuana industry compared to other cities.
“Case studies from across the state have revealed problems with uncontrolled growth, unsafe conditions and even fires in historic downtown areas,” Murchison said. “Caribou is proud of our family-friendly community and doesn’t want to harm historic neighborhoods and commercial areas.”
The Caribou Planning Board will consider Trombley’s proposals during its meeting on Thursday, October 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Caribou Municipal Building, 25 High St.