2017-09-01 / Front Page

Retail pot ban won’t make ballot

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Sometimes, the gears of government move slowly, and when the question is how or even if to open up a brand new industry, that may not be a bad thing, Kennebunk selectmen say.

At a July 18 workshop, 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 scheduled to get the nix were 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 allow commercial harvesting and/or dedicated retail shops, selectmen said the carrot proffered was too small to move their collective 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.”

Planning board members attended that session and a draft of the proposed ban, presented by town attorney Natalie Burns, was made available. The hope was to have the planning board review the draft and hold the public hearing required of all zoning ordinances changes, then make a recommendation on passage back to selectmen, who had already signaled an intent to put it on the November warrant.

However, the planning board has had a full docket of late, planning director Judy Bernstein has said, and did not get to the issue until its Aug. 14 meeting. That session did not include a public hearing.

“Our charge to them was to come back to us with an ordinance to ban this, but all they really did was talk about whether they thought it was a good idea or not,” Karytko complained at the Aug. 22 selectboard meeting.

“I’m a big fan of the planning board, but in this case they shouldn’t really be thinking about whether this is right or wrong, or whether we should or should, they should basically be writing that ordinance and that’s it.”

“The wheels are in motion,” Town Manager Michael Pardue said, noting the the planning board is scheduled to take the issue up again at its Sept. 11 meeting.

In the meantime, Pardue said, the board will need to extend for a second time the moratorium put in place last fall, soon after the statewide vote that legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Following that November 2016 vote, 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 state legislature works out the rulemaking involved in permitting such operations.

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

“I know the planning board is trying to do their due diligence, but the reality is that the matter before everyone right now is to consider prohibiting retail marijuana sales until such time as due diligence can continue for however long is necessary,” Pardue said.

Selectmen are expected to extend the moratorium at their first meeting in October. That will keep anyone from submitting an application until the town passes a full local ban on retail operations — even then marijuana will still remain legal for small scale personal cultivation and use — or creates the zoning language needed to say where such shops can operate.

However, some selectmen, including board chairman Dick Morin, were in favor of taking unilateral action even without the planning board on board, as it were.

“Let’s go on the record right now that if they don’t come to a conclusion on the 11th [of September], we will on the 12th,” he said. “We are looking for a no. That’s all we want. We can turn no into yes later, but we are looking for a no right now to be able to proceed with getting this thing on the ballot and taken care of.

“The state of Maine is in a state of flux with this. They have not issued any rules or regulations, they have absolutely no idea what they are doing, or where they are going,” Morin said. “It makes no sense to study this and study this when there is not where to go.”

Selectman Blake Baldwin agreed, saying, “It’s a fool’s errand to suppose more data is going to provide both the answer and the question.”

He and others on the board suggested that with a ban in place, the town can always vote to lift the ban once state rulemaking is complete, probably after February 2018.

“This is not Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets,” Baldwin said. “We can pass and then change as circumstances warrant, as more data becomes available that might change people’s minds. But right now this isn’t even close, based on what I am hearing from people in the community.”

However, Town Clerk Merton Brown said that a Sept. 12 vote by the selectboard would not leave enough time to hold the necessary public hearings and still have absentee ballots ready 45 days before the election.

“We have a charter, and we would have to have the first public hearing at the meeting on the 12th,” he said. “To make the November ballot you’d have to decide tonight if it was even going to go on the warrant.”

The left the board back at Pardue’s suggestion to stand pat with the moratorium. In that case, two more renewal would be needed before the annual town meeting in June, unless selectmen choose to stage a special town meeting at some point before that.

That leaves the question open as to whether the June vote will remain the board preference to present residents with a full ban on retail marijuana operations, or if, by then, the development of state permitting rules with encourage a drive toward zoning language to permit use in certain areas of town, under given conditions.

“I just want to get this out of a neutral gear in the planning board and moving forward so we can get some actual votes,” Morin said.

Morin pointed out that, while the town can renew a moratorium on certain development applications for an unlimited number of times, those renewals are, in theory at least, contingent on demonstrating the town has continued to work on and made progress toward resolving the conditions that created the need for the ban in the first place.”

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

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