Marijuana deliberations begin

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — As the state prepares to issue provisional licenses to marijuana businesses, residents and town officials are trying to learn what they can before deciding whether to allow such businesses here.

About 25 residents attended a joint public hearing hosted by the Select Board and Planning Board on Tuesday night at which attorney Ben McCall of Portland-based law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry helped to explain where the state stands with rules for recreational, or adult use, marijuana.

The goal of the meeting, Select Board Chair Lydia Goetze said, was “for the Select Board and the Planning Board to be absolutely clear on what towns can and can not do around adult use marijuana.”

Since 2016, when the Marijuana Legalization Act was passed, rules and regulations have been in the hands of legislators. This April, after hiring a firm from Colorado to help craft the state’s regulations, a 73-page draft of the proposed rules to govern “Maine’s Adult Use Marijuana Program” was released.

What is most important to remember, McCall said, is Maine is an opt-in state. That means if municipalities choose not to act, commercial growing, manufacturing products with, selling or testing of adult use marijuana is not allowed.

“The most basic option: the town of Southwest Harbor can choose to sit on its hands and do absolutely nothing,” said McCall.

“That means for the foreseeable future it would not be legal for an adult use retail store to open up in town, an adult use cultivation facility to operate in town, an adult use testing facility to operate in town … and products manufacturing.

“Up to this point, 17 towns in Maine have opted into one of the four categories,” he continued. “You are not required to opt in to all four.”

Because adult use marijuana is legal in the state for those over 21 years of age, regardless of whether their town opts in to allowing any of the four types of businesses, there are several things towns are not allowed to prohibit, McCall said.

These are also referred to as personal use provisions for those of legal age and include possessing up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, possession of marijuana-adulterated edible products or growing three marijuana plants.

“Zoning is your best tool,” McCall told members of the two boards, “in order to regulate the locations and specifications of these uses.”

Goetze pointed out that Southwest Harbor is tricky because of its unusual mixed-use zoning rules.

“The land use ordinance may be more complex than in other places,” she said.

McCall said “adult use at its heart is a state regulated industry.” But, he told town officials, “you have the option, if you so choose, to have your own licensing regime.” Because the state licensing process is “pretty onerous,” he said, “it could be redundant to have interested businesses go through the same hoops at the local level.”

Towns receive little financial benefit for allowing any of the four adult-use marijuana business types, he said.

“Not a single cent of tax revenue from adult use marijuana is coming back to the municipality,” said McCall. “All that money’s staying with the state.”

Mike Levesque, a new member of the Planning Board, said the town’s “only revenue would be from property taxes … or licensing.”

McCall agreed the town could have its own licensing fee, but the amount would be meant to cover costs of whatever town personnel or processes would be required to run the licensing program.

“They are not allowed to be revenue raisers,” said McCall, adding that the state funds are meant to “trickle down” to towns.

There were few questions from the public. One person raised the question of training and educating law enforcement.

Town Manager Justin VanDongen expressed concern regarding potency of edible products and asked if the town could have stricter regulations than the state.

There were also questions from selectmen over whether to prepare draft zoning changes or to gauge public interest first, before working to amend the land use ordinance.

“It’s helpful that the town is having this discussion in this context first,” said McCall. “If the town determines this is something it would be interested in any way, shape or form. Then trying to figure out generally what that looks like is a good way to do it.”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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