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Couple Seeks OK for Cannabis Social Club in Lewiston

Susan Sharon
Shannon and Vincent Gogan at their store, Legal Peace in Lewiston.

A Sabattus couple wants to operate a social club for medical marijuana patients in the back of their retail smoke shop in Lewiston.

They’re hoping to raise the profile of their small business while providing a safe space for legal patients to use their medicine.

They say some patients don’t feel comfortable using medical marijuana in public housing. But the city’s code enforcement director has rejected their application and now they’re appealing.

Shannon and Vincent Gogan have been operating their smoke shop, known as Legal Peaces, on Lisbon Street in Lewiston for the past 2 1/2 years. Business is good, they say. They sell water pipes, hookahs and T-shirts, among other things. But now they want to do something else.

“There’s a lot of patients out there who don’t have a safe space to take their medication. There’s people on Section 8, it is not allowed there,” says Shannon Gogan.

It’s not allowed because federally subsidized housing projects have rules against illegal drugs. Medical marijuana is legal in Maine, but it’s still outlawed at the federal level.

The Gogans say they want to help out patients who aren’t allowed to use their medicine in public places and who worry about getting kicked out of their apartments for using it at home. They’ve set aside a small room in the back of their store with a table, several chairs and a TV.

“It’s a space where they can talk with each other about experiences, things that they’re all going through, their same experiences. It’s for patients that are either by themselves, like I said, or can’t use the medication where they’re not allowed to,” Shannon Gogan says.

The Gogans, who are both medical marijuana patients and caregivers themselves, wouldn’t be allowed to sell marijuana to customers. And they wouldn’t be able to accommodate more than half a dozen customers in the club at a time.

But Gil Arsenault, the director of code enforcement for the city of Lewiston, says he couldn’t support the couple’s application for a cannabis club. He says he rejected it for a basic reason.

“I came to conclude that it’s not permitted, nor is it an accessory use. And the argument really isn’t should this be permitted? The argument is, is it permitted? It’s a pretty narrow black and white question,” he says.

The Gogans have appealed the decision. They say the creation of cannabis clubs will be something Lewiston and other cities have to revisit next fall if voters approve a citizens’ initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. The proposed measure allows for store owners to have social clubs or bars where customers can purchase and consume the product on the premises.

“And we think that’s really important because there’s going to be tourists that come to Maine,” says David Boyer, the manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “And if they can’t use marijuana in their hotel, they need a place to safely, responsibly consume marijuana just like we let adults safely consume alcohol.”

Boyer was unfamiliar with the Gogans’ plans but says, in general, cafes and bars make sense for using marijuana since it will still not be permissible to use in public.

He points out that the initiative allows municipalities to maintain local control. They don’t have to offer social clubs. But the Gogans are hoping they can raise the curtain on the issue.

They say they their next step may be to change the city’s code.