Pot moratorium going to voters Potential for ‘serious harm’ cited

MOUNT DESERT — Voters at town meeting in May will decide whether to impose a six-month moratorium on the retail sale of recreational marijuana in order to give the town time to develop local regulations.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously March 5 to recommend passage of the moratorium.

Maine voters in November 2016 approved the use and retail sale of recreational marijuana. But sales cannot commence until the Legislature adopts an “enforcement structure” and state agencies develop specific rules.

The Legislature has yet to act. But a number of municipalities around the state have passed moratoria to ensure that once state regulations are in place, they will have an opportunity to determine whether to allow marijuana sales and, if so, under what conditions and in what zoning districts.

At a public hearing in January on the moratorium question, several Mount Desert residents objected to the length of the proposed moratorium ordinance and to its wording, saying it reflected a bias against marijuana. Board of Selectmen Chairman John Macauley said he would work on shortening and simplifying it.

But the four-page ordinance that the board voted last week to place on the town meeting warrant is nearly identical to the original wording, which was written by attorneys. It states that a marijuana moratorium is necessary “to prevent serious public harm” and “an overburdening of public facilities.”

Town Manager Durlin Lunt explained why such language is needed.

“A moratorium is only legal if there is a problem that has the potential to cause serious harm to the community … so it’s written seriously,” he said at the selectmen’s meeting. “There’s no way to write it that’s going to be rather soft.”

The state law authorizing municipalities to enact a moratorium states that it must be needed “to prevent a shortage or an overburden of public facilities” or “to prevent serious public harm from residential, commercial or industrial development.”

The proposed Mount Desert ordinance states that the “unregulated location and operation” of retail marijuana establishments raises questions about their impact, including “the potential adverse health and safety effects … the possibility of illicit sale and use of marijuana … potential criminal activity… .”

The ordinance also cites “the potential increased burden on the town’s police and fire departments … and the adequacy of the town’s streets and infrastructure to accommodate the additional traffic and/or population that may result from the presence of retail marijuana establishments.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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