Robert Osborne, Bar Harbor's planning director, has asked the Town Council to consider policy questions associated with marijuana use. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Pot policies pose questions

BAR HARBOR — Town Planning Director Robert Osborne is asking the Town Council to begin considering the myriad local policy questions associated with a new state law on recreational marijuana use, but the council is divided on the issue. After a lengthy debate at Tuesday’s meeting, they decided to take no action – yet.

“The law creates a series of decisions that every municipality in the state has to work their way through,” Osborne told councilors Tuesday. The Marijuana Legalization Act creates five classes of commercial activities to be licensed separately: cultivation, manufacturing, testing, retail sales and social clubs.

The council asked Osborne to begin work on these questions when it last discussed the issue in December.

The town needs to decide whether to prohibit commercial marijuana operations entirely, which of the classes of activities to allow, how many of each kind of license to issue and where to allow those activities in the zoning.

“State regulators approve license applications first, and then forward them to the town for approval,” Osborne wrote in a memo. “How will the town process and approve license applications? Who in town will be point person for these issues? How will the town handle inquiries and ‘applications’? The town needs to have a clear method for dealing with residents that attempt to seek town permission to start a marijuana business before Feb. 1, 2018. The town needs to educate staff to preclude people from taking a position that they have a pending application and have accrued appeal or other rights.”

Town Manager Cornell Knight said the town may consider enacting a moratorium on commercial operations later in the year, “so you don’t get any applications you’re not ready for.” Such a moratorium can last only 180 days and be renewed once.

Some councilors said they wanted to see more details on the state licensing and regulatory process before making decisions about local policy.

“The local control should be done by licensing, not zoning,” Councilor Erin Early Ward said. “We have no solid ground yet on which to write regulations.”

A move to prohibit commercial marijuana operations failed by a vote of 3-4. Councilors Stephen Coston, Paul Paradis and Peter St. Germain voted in favor, and Judie Noonan, Matthew Hochman, Gary Friedmann and Early Ward were opposed.

“We’re voting on whether to start the process,” Hochman said. “We can still prohibit it later if we don’t like what the Planning Board or the state comes up with.”

Friedmann suggested the council direct the Planning Board to make recommendations on only one of the categories of licenses, retail marijuana sales. That motion, amended to include social clubs, also failed by a vote of 3-4. Noonan, Hochman and Friedmann were in favor, and Coston, Paradis, St. Germain and Early Ward were opposed.

“The primary question for me is whether we can achieve a local economic benefit without compromising public safety,” Coston said.

Police Chief Jim Willis said his department is primarily focused on impaired driving, which is much harder to detect with drugs than with alcohol. He also said hotels and bed-and-breakfasts may prohibit marijuana use in their facilities, so officials ought to consider that when weighing possible social clubs.

Lt. Dave Kerns said that because marijuana is a federally prohibited substance, banks may not do business with commercial marijuana enterprises. Most operate as cash-only businesses, and in states such as Colorado, that has resulted in more stick-ups and burglaries since people are carrying large amounts of cash.

“If somebody’s going to go into this business here, they’re likely already in business in a big way somewhere else,” Willis said.



Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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