HANCOCK — After a long wait, the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy recently released proposed regulations for operating retail businesses for recreational marijuana.
On the heels of that announcement, voters in the town of Hancock will be asked later this month whether they want to town to “opt-in” to allow retail/commercial marijuana operations within its borders.
Medical marijuana businesses have already been operating in Maine. Also, personal, recreational use has been legal in Maine since the 2016 passage of the Marijuana Legalization Act.
The Office of Marijuana Policy April 23 released a 73-page draft of the proposed rules to govern “Maine’s Adult Use Marijuana Program.”
Maine contracted with a Colorado firm, Freedman & Koski, to write the rules.
Article 83 on Hancock’s Town Meeting warrant asks:
“Shall the town vote to authorize within the municipality the operation of adult use marijuana establishments provided they operate in compliance with all applicable state and local requirements?”
Unrelated to the opt-in vote, the Hancock Planning Board May 8 will hear an application for a CBD manufacturing business.
CBD is short for cannibidiol, an anti-inflammatory oil derived from plants in the cannabis family.
Hemp-based CBD products, such as those made by the Hancock applicant, do not contain THC, the chemical that produces a “high.” The applicant uses CBD to make tinctures, salves and beauty products, which are sold elsewhere, according to Toni Dyer, administrative assistant to the town’s Board of Selectmen.
The opt-in vote would not affect the fate of the CBD manufacturer.
“CBD is a hemp product and thus not in the same category as the marijuana products/businesses that would be considered in the opt-in vote at Town Meeting,” said Katherine Colwell, the chair of the town’s planning board.
Many municipalities in Hancock County are heeding votes and straw polls held back in 2017 that indicated a majority of local voters weren’t interested in allowing retail marijuana operations in their towns.
In order for someone to open a retail marijuana business he or she needs a license from the state of Maine as well as from the municipality in which he or she intends to operate. For that to occur, that town or city must “opt in” to allowing such businesses.
To that end, the opt-in question was just raised to the Southwest Harbor town manager on Monday.
“I know there was at least one person interested in approaching the board about an opt-in ordinance,” said Justin Van Dongen, Southwest Harbor’s manager. No action has been taken as of yet.
Meanwhile, town officials across Hancock County haven’t expressed much interest in “opting in.”
Brooklin Selectman Bill Cohen said Monday, “Right now we have no plans to put that opt-in to a vote.”
There will be no retail/commercial marijuana enterprises on Deer Isle-Stonington in the near future either.
“Thus far the Deer Isle Selectboard position has been to maintain the status quo,” said Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher. “As we understand, towns must opt in if they want to permit recreational marijuana growing (beyond personal use), product manufacturing, clubs and sales. The town has not been approached by any parties wanting to open any of these businesses.”
“The Select Board members feel the town lacks administrative, health and law enforcement infrastructure that might be needed should recreational marijuana businesses be launched,” Fisher said.
Ellsworth City Manager David Cole said, “The city hasn’t taken a position as of yet. It really hasn’t been discussed.”
Bucksport Town Manager Susan Lessard said there will be no commercial enterprises in her town.
“The only marijuana allowed is the personal use allowed by the law and the fact that medical marijuana can be grown in certain areas, which is required by state law,” Lessard said.
Back to the proposed statewide marijuana rules, work has already begun on a final version, according to the Marijuana Policy Office.
There are four general licenses one could obtain: “cultivation facility, testing facility, products manufacturing facility and marijuana store.”
Bar Harbor attorney Lynne Williams, who specializes in cannabis law, said she understands the Legislature intends to finish work on the rules before the session ends June 30.
Williams said she has concerns, chiefly that a few of the draft rules seem inconsistent with the bill that voters approved legalizing marijuana.
“I think there’s a distinct misunderstanding of the bill by these guys from Colorado who drafted these regulations,” Williams said.
Maine voters approved the Marijuana Legalization Act in a November 2016 referendum.
One issue is a proposed rule that businesses must track each of their seeds from seed to plant, according to Williams.
“How can you track a seed, really?” Williams wondered.
Williams quoted Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop), who is also an organic farmer, who said, “If I have 100 seedlings, only about 10 of them become actual plants.”
One rule stipulates that if a business is making deliveries, the business can’t stop the delivery vehicle for more than two hours, Williams said.
“My understanding from the bill that passed — we’re not going to allow deliveries.”
The Office of Marijuana Policy will hold a public hearing in Portland May 23 to be followed by a 10-day public comment period before the rules go to the Legislature for vote.
Maine’s one-year contract with Freedman and Koski is $189,335 for adult use and medical marijuana rulemaking consulting services, according to David Heidrich, director of communications and senior policy advisor for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
The state has also signed a $10,000 contract with BOTEC Analysis to review the rules governing adult use, Heidrich said.