MOUNT DESERT — It’s too soon to enact a moratorium on marijuana retail stores in Mount Desert, selectmen decided last week.
They had considered asking voters at the May 2 town meeting to approve a 180-day moratorium, but decided to hold off.
In November, Maine voters narrowly approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. The law went into effect Jan. 30, so it is now legal for people 21 and over to possess marijuana and use it in private settings.
However, the sale of marijuana is still illegal in Maine. The Legislature has enacted a moratorium on retail sales to give state officials time to set up licensing and regulatory procedures. That is expected to take until at least February 2018.
Mount Desert could enact a 180-day moratorium on retail stores, which the selectmen could then extend for another 180 days.
But the selectmen said that with the state moratorium in place, there is no pressing need for a local moratorium on retail stores, and enacting a local moratorium at this time would only limit the town’s options later on.
“I personally think we should wait because I don’t want to get up to the end of our [moratorium of] 360 days and have nothing left in the bag,” Chairman John Macauley said, drawing laughter from his fellow board members.
“We could have a special town meeting and maybe vote a moratorium once we get closer [to the end of the state’s moratorium].”
That, he and other board members indicated, would give the town more time to decide what, if any, zoning changes or other restrictions should be enacted regarding the establishment of marijuana retail stores.
Maine municipalities can limit the location of such retail outlets or prohibit them entirely.
Town managers and other officials of area municipalities discussed the marijuana moratorium issue at the monthly meeting of the League of Towns board on Tuesday.
Tremont Town Manager Dana Reed said it is difficult for towns to know what regulations to enact without knowing what the state rules are going to be. He said towns need to deal with marijuana growing operations, retail sales and social clubs, which he described as “basically bars for smoking pot.”
“Our zoning ordinances don’t control any of this,” Reed said. “So, right now, if somebody wants to open up a shop – it could be right across the street from a school or next door to a church – and we have no controls on them whatsoever.
“So, you need to decide how to define them, what zone they can go in and how many of them there can be. There are all kinds of issues.”
Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt said it will be interesting to see if the four MDI towns take similar or different approaches.
“One town could say they want this and embrace it wholeheartedly, and others might want a total prohibition,” he said.
Mike Madell, deputy superintendent of Acadia National Park, said, “To further complicate things on the island, regardless of what (any of the towns) do, it’s still going to be illegal in the park” to possess, sell or use marijuana.
The Ellsworth City Council has enacted a two-year ban on marijuana retail establishments.
“In two years, we can consider whether we want to continue that,” City Manager David Cole said. “That gives us time to reconsider ordinances.”
He said the city’s stance on marijuana sales isn’t “no, never, but no, not right now.”