Marijuana moratorium approved

BAR HARBOR — Town councilors here enacted a 180-day moratorium on Feb. 6 to prevent the operation and licensing of retail marijuana stores and social clubs, following a public hearing on the proposal. The motion was approved unanimously.

This comes three weeks after enacting a 60-day emergency moratorium ordinance to give time for the process of this moratorium, which required a public hearing.

Last week, a move in the Maine Legislature to extend a statewide moratorium that expired Feb. 1 was defeated. That moratorium is no longer in place, but under current law, no one may operate a retail business without a license, and there is not yet any mechanism for obtaining such a license.

Town attorney Ed Bearor said it is currently illegal under state law for town officials to issue licenses to operate a retail location.

“A code enforcement officer probably couldn’t issue you a permit to do something that is otherwise illegal,” Bearor said. “We are, to a certain degree, held hostage by the Legislature and the governor’s ability to come to grips with this.”

Other members of the public were worried about the endless loop of moratoria, but Hochman said that the council’s hands were tied by the Legislature’s inaction.

“We don’t have a choice [about the moratorium,]” Hochmann said. “From my perspective, this moratorium gives us the time to wait for the state to figure out what they’re doing and give us good guidelines.”

Hochman said that the town could choose to restrict the number of licenses and ban certain types of establishments within the framework of future state legislation.

Resident Pete Bono said he supported the moratorium and a potential ban on all marijuana sales in Bar Harbor.

“I believe marijuana retail sales are simply not in character with the town’s history and popularity as a family vacation destination,” Bono said. “It’s also not in character with Acadia National Park, which bans marijuana use per federal regulation.”

Lynne Williams, a Bar Harbor resident and an attorney who was a member of the legal team for the Legalize Maine initiative, said councilors should keep in mind that voters here were 62 percent in favor of legalizing marijuana. She was in favor of a moratorium to allow the town time to draft the best possible set of rules.

Bearor said the 180-day moratorium can be reenacted an unlimited number of times. Local regulations may land use ordinance amendments, he said, which is a long procedure. The lack of legislation would be a valid reason to enact another moratorium, he said.

“You have to come back, revisit the issue and make appropriate findings,” Bearor said. “You have to say the emergency or events that gave rise to your vote in the first place still are present.”

Councilor Judie Noonan confirmed with Bearor that the Planning Board could work on regulations through the moratorium.

The council voted earlier this year for the Planning Board to begin work on regulations, but there is no statewide framework for them to work from.

“It’s a waste of the Planning Board’s energy, and there’s nothing for them to work on yet,” Hochman said at the Jan. 16 town meeting when the 60-day emergency moratorium was approved.



Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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