2017-07-07 / Front Page

Voters may get chance to nix marijuana sales

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Come November, voters in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport may get a chance to prohibit retail marijuana sales and cultivation operations within their borders, becoming what was once known in the parlance of alcohol prohibition, a “dry town.”

At the June 27 meeting of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, Town Manger Mike Pardue said a copy of the ban ordinance adopted by Wells voters June 13 has been provided to Town Planner Judy Bernstein.

“That’s a land use ordinance,” Pardue said — the reason why, by state law, it must go under planning board review. “The intent is that it will move forward to the planning board for their consideration. Should they adopt that, obviously, it will come back to this board, and then ideally it will be scheduled for the November 13 ballot.”

Pardue also said he hoped to conduct a public forum “in the very near future,” on the public safety aspects of readily available retail marijuana.

A moratorium now in place is set to expire Oct. 6, but can be extended an additional

180 days.

A state moratorium is in place through February 2018, while rules are promulgated for commercial use of the newly legal product. Once those rules are in place, prospective pot sellers, as well as growers for retail use, will need to get licensed by the state.

However, in much the way alcohol sales work, those state licenses will be contingent on procurement of a municipal license.

Towns will have the ability under local zoning ordinances to say where and under what conditions a municipal license may be granted, up to and including, “Nowhere.”

“So, we are not at all in a time crunch, although it is important that we continue to move forward,” Pardue said, with nine months to go before the state will even consider issuing its first marijuana permissions.

However, at the June 27 board meeting, Selectman Ed Karytko advised his peers that they must make a decision by Sept. 12 in order to meet filing and absentee ballot availability deadlines that will allow the question a place on the November ballot.

In a June 29 email, Bernstein said the draft ban language could be debated by the planning board as soon as July 10, but certainly no later than August 14.

“The Planning Board has not had time to work on this issue yet, but I have advised them that we should try to schedule time after the July 10 public hearing for the Harts Road contract zone,” she wrote. “I am not sure how long the public hearing will last, so we may not have time to discuss the marijuana issue, but I will be sending the board a draft of a possible zoning amendment that would prohibit marijuana social clubs and retail marijuana sales in Kennebunk. So I hope to have some draft wording for the board to review prior to that meeting.

“We will need to definitely schedule the discussion for the Aug. 14 planning board agenda, and if possible, make it a public hearing, so that it can be passed on to the Board of Selectmen in time to make the November town ballot,” Bernstein wrote.

In a separate June 29 interview, selectboard chairman Dick Morin said a workshop on the marijuana issue had been scheduled just that morning for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18.

“Part one of that meeting is going to be on how we handle consent agreements,” Morin said. “Then we’ll take a little breather and reconvene to talk about the implications of the marijuana problem — the problem being, what to do. Again, this is a workshop, not a formal meeting, so no decisions will be made that night.

“We need to take some quick steps because we still don’t have any rules from the state of Maine or anyone else on how all of this is supposed to work,” Morin said. “So, if we are moving toward being a dry town, then we ought to be positioning that, and structuring that. And if we’re not, then we ought to be structuring that, too.”

Kennebunkport also may consider a retail sales ban. At the June 8 selectmen’s meeting there, Scott Gagnon of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), gave a 40-minute presentation on the effects of the drug.

“I wish I had heard of this before,” Selectman Ed Hutchins said immediately following the talk. “As I’ve said before several times, I voted for this [legalization] thinking it was one thing, and, having since attended several meetings such as this evening, I think many of us were sold on a bill of goods. What we voted for is not the reality.

“I’m going to go on record right here and right now and say I’m going to vote that this will be a dry town,” Hutchins said. “I don’t know what my board colleagues will do, but I’ve already made my decision and I’m not going to change it.”

In a July 2 interview, Hutchins said that while no ban is currently on the table in Kennebunkport at either the selectboard or planning board levels, in any of the five commercial categories the town would have licensing control over once state rule-making is in place — retail sales, cultivation, product manufacturing, testing, or social club operations — he is hopeful the topic will be on the agenda for selectmen’s next regular meeting, July 13.

“We cannot do anything about personal possession or private use. That’s all legal now. But for these other five areas, the town gets none of the tax benefits and all of the problems,” he said. “So, I expect we will get something on the November ballot. Possibly a moratorium but I hope a provision from us to become a dry town.”

That’s certainly not a guarantee, however. In a separate July 2 interview, Kennebunkport board chairman Stuart Barwise noted that he and his peers have engaged speakers on the topic over the past few months, as well as residents during the public comment portions of board meetings, “in order to engage the public and get a sense of where everyone stands on the issue.”

The culmination, Barwise said, probably will the launch of some formal action at the board’s July 13 meeting, although it’s hard to say how things will evolve from that introductory session to any November referendum.

‘It’s too soon to say for sure,” Barwise said. “However, what my gut tells me from the caution in the air when my peers on the board have spoken, is that we will probably take the position of asking the voters to enact a moratorium until we can see precisely what it is the state is going to do. I don’t think we would elect immediately to go dry until we actually know what the state rules will look like.”

In Arundel, about 40 residents gathered for a special town meeting back on Jan. 30, and, by a clear show of hands, voted down a six-month moratorium on accepting site plan review application for retail marijuana operations. The Arundel Planning Board was scheduled to take up the issue at its July 6 workshop meeting.”

The agenda for that meeting says the board will discuss “compatible marijuana uses in various [zoning] districts, and strategies to solicit citizen input into the decision making process,” but did not indicate any kind of retail ban is currently on the table.

In addition to Wells, towns that have adopted some form of retail marijuana ban include Cumberland, Farmingdale, Fayetteville, Frenchville, Lebanon, Norway, Oakland, Skowhegan, Starks, Vassalboro and Waterboro.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpos.com.

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