SOUTHWEST HARBOR — At the polls on Tuesday, voters chose to allow marijuana businesses to operate in the town.
All local ballot questions passed handily in one of the largest voter turnouts the town has seen in recent history. Whether or not to adopt the town’s proposed Marijuana Ordinance, as a vote to opt in, won with 654 votes in favor and 396 opposed. That vote allows adult use, also known as recreational, marijuana retail stores, testing, manufacturing and cultivation facilities to operate, as well as medical marijuana businesses with the same focus. Within the newly adopted ordinance, medical marijuana dispensaries are prohibited in the town.
Dispensaries, which have been limited to eight throughout the state, are nonprofit organizations regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services and differ from a retail store.
There is a limit of two of any marijuana business laid out in the newly adopted ordinance, with a specification that only two testing facilities would be allowed in the town, whether it tests medical and/or adult use marijuana. Following adoption, town officials will take 60 days, and can take up to 90 days, to accept applications, according to the ordinance, before beginning the licensing process.
All marijuana businesses must have a state issued provisional license before applying locally. In order to open a business to the public, both a state and local license are required. Businesses are not allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of a school, which prohibits any businesses from operating in the downtown area.
Southwest Harbor’s mixed-use land use ordinance was one of the challenges faced in creating a marijuana ordinance. Land use regulations are one way a municipality can exhibit local control regarding marijuana businesses. A concern some people raised ahead of the vote was whether a residential dwelling could become a business location. There are some zones within the town where that would be allowed, barring any other restrictions set by the state or town.
Last November, a straw poll went before voters in Southwest Harbor to gauge interest in having marijuana businesses such as medical or adult use retail stores, manufacturing, testing and/or cultivation facilities in the town. Results were close for all five questions, with a small majority of people in favor of most of them. As former selectman Lydia Goetze said at the time, the results were pretty evenly divided.
To begin the process, a marijuana committee was formed, made up of town officials and residents both for and against having marijuana businesses in town. The 10-member committee first met at the end of January with the goal of putting an ordinance before voters at this year’s annual Town Meeting. When COVID-19 caused a shutdown of public meetings and then restricted the number of people allowed to gather, a vote on the proposed 16-page ordinance was pushed out until this election.
Businesses looking to operate in Southwest Harbor must pass a merit-based criteria process in which they earn points for being based in Maine, Hancock County and then Southwest Harbor. Points are also earned for having taken marijuana education courses recognized by the state and a background in the business.
Also at the polls on Tuesday, residents voted to repeal the former Land Use Ordinance and adopt an updated version that did not include aspects of the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance. That newly proposed ordinance, based largely on state regulations, was a separate question that also passed. Voters agreed to appropriate $12,700 to Mount Height Cemetery, a nonprofit organization, for maintenance and operation costs. Updates to the town’s Subdivision Ordinance, originally enacted in 1990, were also approved by a vote of 675 to 313.