BAR HARBOR — After holding a public hearing on a citizen-initiated petition to bring retail marijuana to town, the Town Council is going to take up to a month to decide its next steps.
The next steps, which are limited to adopting the petition or sending it to voters for a June vote at town meeting, are stymied by the fact that there are conflicting legal opinions — each with its own potential to invite a lawsuit from those on either side of the issue.
At the crux of the conflict is whether the petition presented to the board and signed by more than 450 Bar Harbor residents satisfies the changes needed to the land use portion of siting a retail marijuana store. The attorney for the petitioners says that no changes are needed to the land use ordinance because the petition expands the town’s definition of a retail establishment and therefore would be permitted in town districts that already permit retail establishments.
That is at odds with an opinion received by the town from its new attorney, Tim Pease of Rudman Winchell, and from the town’s previous counsel, which say that a two-step process is needed. The two steps include adopting the ordinance and then specifically changing the land use ordinance to permit retail marijuana establishments.
Councilors, as well as those speaking from the public on Tuesday, seemed to balk at an opinion presented by Pease that said the council had the authority to strike out a portion of the petition before sending it to voters or adopting it.
While residents who spoke at the public hearing expressed a wide range of opinions, council member Matt Hochman said that the issue really came down to whether the language in the petition was adequate to bring forward the vision of the petitioners and those who supported it.
“This is a flawed petition, but the petitioners followed all the steps, and it should go to voters,” he said.
Town Manager Kevin Sutherland asked the council to hold off on making a decision to give more time to speak with petitioners, the town’s attorney and others before coming back at a meeting in February to make a final decision.