2017-08-04 / Front Page

Retail marijuana bans going to voters

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Although it is now legal to possess small amounts of marijuana, selectmen in the Kennebunks hope to snuff out any dreams locals may have of selling the stuff commercially in their towns.

At a July 18 workshop, Kennebunk selectmen agreed to work on an ordinance to ban growing and testing marijuana for commercial purposes, as well as the manufacture of products containing the product. Also to get the nix are retail stores and so-called marijuana social clubs.

Although the state legislature has recently pitched a 20 percent tax on the marijuana sales — including a 10 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax — with 5 percent of the total haul funneled to towns that allow commercial harvesting and/or dedicated retail shops, selectmen said the carrot proffered was too small to move their collective donkey cart.

“I don’t care what the taxes are, the money just isn’t worth it,” Selectman Ed Karytko said. “The consequences of what could happen aren’t worth any amount we might get paid.”

In large part, selectmen predicted any tax revenue derived from marijuana will pale in comparison to increased infrastructure costs from encouraging its sale in local shops.

“My fear is that we are going to be facing ambulance and police costs and other types of things,” board chairman Dick Morin said.

Others at the workshop said they simply don’t like the idea of a head shop on Main Street, in the town’s historic village.

“To think that we’re going to be skating at the Waterhouse Center and my daughter is going to be staring across the street at a retail marijuana facility, that’s bothersome to me,” said Mike Mosher, a member of the RSU 21 school board.

Because the prohibition of retail marijuana operations in Kennebunk is conceived as an amendment to local zoning rules, state law requires those edits to get a public hearing before the planning board, which will then make a formal recommendation to selectmen.

As of the July 18 workshop there was just enough time to get that done while still allowing for first and second readings at regular selectmen’s meetings, according to Town Clerk Merton Brown, who has said selectmen must sign the town meeting warrant by Sept. 12 in order to meet all filing and absentee ballot availability rules for the November vote.

In a July 31 email, Kennebunk Community Development Director Chris Osterrieder said a joint meeting between selectmen and planning board members on the topic is now planned for Aug. 23. However, that probably will not leave enough time to meet the Sept. 12 deadline.

“The initial thinking is that things are not quite ripe enough to advance this to a November ballot question,” Osterrieder wrote. “Should that be the case, the board of selectmen may opt to extend the moratorium.”

Following the November 2016 statewide vote that legalized possession and personal cultivation and use of marijuana, Kennebunk residents agreed Feb. 28 by a vote of 366-83 to adopt a moratorium on licensing retail marijuana operations of all types while the legislature worked on state rule-making.

That temporary ban was backdated to October 25, and was set to expire April 9. However, on March 28 selectmen extend the moratorium an additional 180 days, to Oct. 6.

In Kennebunkport, the odds of a November vote are far greater. At a July 13 meeting, selectmen there voted to have Town Manager Laurie Smith create draft language for their consideration, with an eye toward sending it on to voters.

In a July 31 email, Smith said that proposal will be vetting at the August 10 board meeting.

Smith said she does not anticipate a side trip to the planning board, as the document she is drafting will not seek to amend zoning regulations.

“The proposed ordinance is a stand alone ordinance, hence there will be no land use amendments,” she said.

At decision of Kennebunkport selectmen was precipitated by a presentation from Police Chief Craig Sanford, who sounded the same alarm Morin had in Kennebunk.

“With an influx of this kind of problem, we are going to have staffing issues,” he said. “It’s going to cost us in personnel time, it’s going to cost us in overtime. It requires the creation of a brand new infrastructure to deal with the licensing and application process and to do the inspections, and it requires special training to keep up with that. Our current police facility does not have enough room to do all that. “

Sanford also predicted having a few marijuana businesses in town would dilute the pool of job applicants to the police department.

“I’ve got to kind of soften my look, in how hard do I look at future employees,” he said. “I can tell you that a lot of the chiefs out there [where marijuana has been legalized] are having a lot of trouble finding good candidates to do the job. One chief told me officers were leaving the job to go and work in the marijuana trade because they were earning more money. So, that was very, very telling.

“I think, where we are a tourist town, people will then want to come here, maybe not to just enjoy the scenery of Kennebunkport, but to indulge, if we were to have commerce that sold [these] products. And I think overuse of those products would cause us greater issues that we have with alcohol, currently,” Sanford said.

Selectmen only heard from a few residents after Sanford spoke before Chairman Patrick Briggs called for a vote on whether to renew the town’s moratorium while crafting enabling language that would allow pot shops to exist in town, or to go for a full on ban.

“I’m more in favor of dry, myself,” Selectman Ed Hutchins said.

“Speaking as a business person and a representative of the businesses in town, I think we’re a charming, small New England town,” said Selectan Sheila Matthews Bull, who owns and operates the Rhumb Line Resort. “We deal mostly with families here and we just have a great little community. I think there will be plenty of towns in the state that may see it differently, but I think we would lose more than we would gain.”

“I don’t see any benefit to us,” Selectman Allen Daggett agreed.

However, while he, too, supported the concept of a full ban, Selectmen Stuart Barwise encouraged those who want marijuana stores in town to come forward and say so.

“Over the past several months, as we’ve worked to encourage a dialogue, we’ve had any number of feedback from a narrow group of people who would be favorably disposed to this,” Barwise said. “As a selectman of the town, I have a pretty clear mandate to not let this [one-sided debate] happen. So, if anybody viewing this at home feels differently, I would encourage you to let yourself be heard and to bring forward a message to that effect.”

“Your time on the clock is ticking,” Barwise said, noting that November is just around the corner.

“That’s good news for me,” said David James, chairman of the 200-plus member Kennebunkport Resident’s Association. “Apart from not wanting any change to medical marijuana, I have not had a single email in support of this.”

“Some people might be afraid to [speak out],” Matthews-Bull said.

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

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