SOUTHWEST HARBOR— Those looking to establish a marijuana business here need to have a complete application submitted before Jan. 26.
That is the first date members of the Board of Selectmen will review any applications for businesses focused on selling, manufacturing, cultivating and/or testing medical or adult use marijuana.
Voters of the town approved marijuana businesses at the polls on Nov. 3 by adopting a Marijuana Ordinance, with a count of 654 in favor and 396 against.
Tuesday night was the first time that selectmen met, via Zoom, since the opt–in vote and the goal was to set fees for the application and licensure processes. Businesses looking to operate in the town need to acquire a state provisional license first, then submit an application to the town they wish to operate in and finally be approved at the municipal level before receiving a state license. According to the town’s ordinance, once an application has been approved by selectmen, through a merit-based process, a license will be issued contingent upon site plan review application approval by the Planning Board.
Town Manager Justin VanDongen suggested an application fee be comparable to that of obtaining a liquor license in town.
“I think something in the range of $200 would be appropriate for the application process,” he said.
Selectmen voted unanimously in favor to a motion made by Chairman Kristen Hutchins to make the application fees comparable to a liquor license application fee.
Once an application has been approved, explained Deputy Code Enforcement Officer Jesse Dunbar, then the applicant pays a license fee to establish a business in the town.
“The licensing process, there’s a couple of things in that,” said Van Dongen. “There’s the cost of people making complaints and that increased cost to code enforcement and police, and the training aspect as well.
“So, I think something in the neighborhood of $2,500 would be appropriate,” he said to the board. “I think per officer, it’s going to cost at least that to do the training that’s required,”
After asking if that amount would be an annual fee, Hutchins said she was startled by that number.
“Training police officers seems legitimate to me,” she said, adding that the process and final amount to do so were not yet clear. “Processing application fees seems legitimate to me. But I’d be very sorry to see us gouging people trying to start a legal business.”
Deputy Code Enforcement Officer Jesse Dunbar said the highest licensure fee by a municipality that he had seen was $10,000 and the average was $5,000.
“I think that’s a minimal cost to what the fee increase burden to the municipality is going to be,” VanDongen said about the amount he suggested. “That’s just my experience in dealing with the one we had illegally in the spring, last year… I think there is going to be an increased burden to code enforcement, policing and, for certain, the town manager.”
According to the ordinance, two of each kind of business are allowed to operate in the town, which would grant a total of 10 licenses. While that means two for adult use retail, two for medical caregiver storefronts and two for adult use cultivation facilities, the two licenses issued for each manufacturing and testing facilities can be interchangeable between medical and/or adult use, but limited to only two of that type of business.
VanDongen suggested that the license fee could be reduced if someone is receiving multiple licenses with the town for different businesses.
Members of the board asked for more information around projected costs for town staff in order to decide what a fair license fee would be. State law notes that any fees have to be related to actual costs incurred by the municipality and not unrealistically inflated.
“Weren’t there going to be some funds from marijuana income that were going to offset those costs, or are the towns expected to eat that entirely?” Hutchins asked.
VanDongen responded by saying the state is getting all of the money from marijuana business sales.
“That’s the dilemma of this law in this state,” said Carolyn Ball, a member of the board. “In other states, there’s a special sales tax, so that any kind of extra concerns that a town might have are taken up by the sales tax, but we don’t have it.”
One member of the public asked if the annual licensing fee could be reduced after the first year if a business proves itself.
“I agree that there’s going to be a lot of additional costs, especially because this is so new,” said Tammy Smith. “I think having a lower fee would help that business in the long term to stay in business.”