MOUNT DESERT — Voters at a special town meeting Jan. 29 will decide whether to impose a six-month moratorium on the cultivation and sale of recreational marijuana in town.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to hold the open-floor town meeting and to approve the wording of the proposed moratorium ordinance.
It states that “the location and operation of retail marijuana establishments … has potentially serious implications for the health, safety and welfare of the town and its residents.”
The proposed ordinance further states that the town’s current ordinances “are insufficient to prevent serious public harm that could be caused by the unregulated development of retail marijuana establishments” and that the town needs time to develop “reasonable ordinances and regulations.”
Town Manager Durlin Lunt said Tuesday that he has not heard of anyone expressing interest in opening a marijuana store or social club in Mount Desert. Even so, he said he thought it would be wise to enact a moratorium.
Maine voters in November 2016 narrowly approved legalization of the use, cultivation and retail sale of recreational marijuana. But the Legislature has not yet established regulations regarding those activities.
A statewide moratorium on marijuana cultivation and sale, which the Legislature passed last January, is set to expire Feb. 1. A bill has been introduced to extend that moratorium to May to give the state time to put regulations and enforcement protocols in place.
Meanwhile, municipalities around Maine are enacting moratoria of their own so that, once the state’s rules are established, they will have an opportunity to decide whether to allow marijuana sales locally and, if so, what restrictions to impose, if any. For example, land use ordinances might be amended to allow or specifically prohibit marijuana stores or social clubs in certain zoning districts.
The Maine Municipal Association has distributed a sample moratorium ordinance for cities and towns that would like to enact one.
A special legislative committee last year spent several months crafting a set of regulations or “legal framework” for implementing the legalization of recreational marijuana. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature, but Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it. In November, the Senate voted to override the veto, as did a majority of House members, but the margin in the House was not large enough to override.
Since then, legislators have been working on a substitute bill that they hope will be acceptable to LePage and other critics of the original bill.
A public hearing on the new bill, which would create “a regulatory structure for adult use marijuana,” will be held at the state Capitol tomorrow, Friday, by the Legislature’s Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation.
The printed bill runs 75 pages.
Under the bill, a municipality may not authorize the operation of a marijuana establishment unless the municipality’s legislative body has voted “to generally authorize some or all types of marijuana establishments.” (In towns with boards of selectmen, the voters of the town are the legislative body. In Bar Harbor, it is the Town Council.)
Municipalities that allow marijuana stores or social clubs may adopt land use regulations to limit where such establishments can be located, as well as limits on the number of marijuana establishments that may be operated.
A statewide moratorium on the issuance of licenses for “adult use marijuana social clubs” would be in effect until June 1, 2020.
Drive-through sales of marijuana would be prohibited, as would sales by use of a delivery service, sales by automated vending machines and internet sales.
The bill would impose a 10 percent sales tax on the sale of marijuana to consumers. Municipalities would get 5 percent of the monthly sales tax revenue generated within their jurisdiction. Another 12 percent would go to the Adult Use Marijuana Public Health and Safety Fund. The fund would be used to support marijuana-related “health and safety awareness and education programs” and enhanced enforcement training for local, county and state law enforcement officers.
Cultivation facilities would pay an excise tax on marijuana sold to retail stores or social clubs.
There are currently no provisions for the collection of excise or sales taxes once the existing moratorium on marijuana cultivation and sales expires Feb. 1. That is one reason why some legislators are pushing for an extension of the state’s moratorium.
Rep. Brian Hubbell, who represents Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Lamoine, addressed the marijuana regulation issue in a Dec. 31 email to constituents.
“Although marijuana usage and possession remain legal, communities across the state are left uncertain about how to deal with cultivation and sales,” he wrote.
“Resolving this will be a top priority for the upcoming session [which began Wednesday], and I have confidence that the legislative committee will persevere. The committee has made extraordinary efforts to draw the governor back into negotiations. I trust that all sides now understand the urgency.”