SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen said they need to research zoning issues and better educate the public about the state’s marijuana laws before considering a town vote on allowing marijuana businesses here.
Results of a straw poll conducted at the voting booth earlier this month showed more residents were in favor than against having marijuana businesses in town, but only by a small margin. The straw poll included five questions about different types of marijuana businesses.
In the Nov. 12 meeting of the Board of Selectmen following the straw poll, Chair Lydia Goetze began the conversation by stating the town was “pretty evenly divided” on most of the questions.
Of the different types of businesses, medical marijuana caregiver retail stores, received the most support, with a 212-152 vote.
Selectman Ryan Donahue said he had spoken with residents who voted, and he wasn’t confident they understood the questions. One voter asked him what a caregiver was.
Donahue also said the town will need to do more research because of its mixed-use zoning.
“It’s crazy for us to run at this thing without doing our research,” he said. “Let’s say a house goes on the market, couldn’t it become a retail store or testing facility?”
According to the website of the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy, the office is “currently on schedule to begin accepting adult use business applications by the end of 2019.”
But, in order for a business to operate in a town, the town must first take specific action to “opt in” to allowing such businesses.
Also stated on the OMP website is the process of becoming licensed in the state of Maine’s adult use marijuana program. The three steps include conditional licensure, local authorization and active licensure.
In other words, a business or individual may apply for a conditional license for an adult use marijuana business before they’ve decided which town they will be doing business in.
Once a conditional license is granted, it is up to the business to find a town that has opted in to having the business within its boundaries and get local approval.
Then, the state will complete the process for an active license for the business.
Town Manager Justin VanDongen asked selectmen if the next best step in public education would be to organize a meeting of community stakeholders to discuss parameters and guidelines for adult use marijuana businesses in Southwest Harbor.
He emphasized inviting those not in favor of having the businesses to the conversation to help craft what they would want to see as guidelines or licensing requirements if it were to go to town meeting vote.
Residents responding to the straw poll were in favor of adult use marijuana cultivation facilities by a vote of 185-180.
Questions about manufacturing facilities and testing facilities combined both adult use and medical marijuana businesses. Respondents favored manufacturing facilities by a vote of 191-174. Testing facilities received exactly the same number of “yes” and “no” votes, a 182-182 tie.
There were two public meetings hosted by selectmen, one included the Planning Board, leading up to the straw poll.