2016-12-16 / Community

Marijuana moratorium passed in Cape, expected in South Portland

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

As the recount of all ballots in November vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana slogs on, area towns are moving to adopt a temporary bans on the licensing of retail sales or cultivation facilities within their borders, just in case the apparent Yes vote stands.

As the recount moved into its seventh day on Tuesday, about 20 percent of the votes cast has been reviewed. Although the No side was reporting “gains” on social media, even as the Yes side posted updates of “no statistically significant change,” the Secretary of State’s Office said it would not release actual vote totals until the recount is complete.

Question 1 passed by 4,073 votes statewide (381,692 to 377,619), a difference of 0.5 percent. If the results are upheld in the recount, marijuana prohibition for personal use would end on Jan. 7. However, rules on licensing retail shops and social clubs could take a year to wind though the halls of the capitol dome. The law actually gives the state nine months to complete that work.

On Tuesday, the pro-marijuana website, The Daily Chronic, reported that David Boyer, head of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, called the recount effort a “colossal” waste of time and money.“Every day that No on 1 extends their recount, they are deliberately choosing to create a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money, and of state employees’ time,” Boyer wrote. “No on 1 is forcing our campaign to spend money on a recount, rather than on working toward implementation of Question 1.”

Some of that money may need to be funneled into new public relations efforts, to convince towns not to pass what pro-pot residents might consider overly restrictive, or to pass complete bans on retails shops.

Much like the 2012 legalization of consumer fireworks, the law would allow municipalities to “opt out” by banning retail shops within their borders. Otherwise, the law would allow adults 21 and older to possess as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana, to grow their own plants, and to buy marijuana from licensed retail stores, subject to a 10 percent state sales tax.

Boyer did not respond to a Sentry request to comment on moratorium efforts now underway in many area towns to refuse retail and cultivation efforts until local rules are in place, or a formal ban adopted.

On Monday, Cape Elizabeth adopted a 90-day moratorium. South Portland was also scheduled to do so, but a snowstorm delayed that vote until Wednesday, after the deadline for this week’s Sentry.

Portland adopted a moratorium on Nov. 21. Scarborough town councilors have elected to wait until the recount is over to act, while Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Saco have yet to weigh in. However, moratorium efforts have begin in Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel.

The moratoriums may seem moot, given that no marijuana shops can be permitted until the state adopts its own guidelines. However, state law lets municipalities renew moratoriums up to three times, provided they can prove a good faith effort to complete the work that prompted passage in the first place. That potentially pushes local bans out nine months, to about the time the state is due to release its regulations. However, the delay also allows marijuana opponents more time to lobby municipal officers for the outright ban on retail sales, non-medical commercial cultivation, and/or the establishment of so-called social clubs, where marijuana could be consumed on premises.

In South Portland, Question 1 passed with 57.6 percent of the vote, 8,504 to 6,253. Additionally, in 2014, South Portland residents adopted a local initiative to legalize marijuana with 52.4 percent in favor — 6,326 to 5,755. Boyer acknowledged at the time of the 2014 vote that it was largely ceremonial, a stepping stone of the national Marijuana Policy Project to gauge public sentiment in support of statewide legalization. South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins said his officers never stopped issuing citations for possession.

But in Cape Elizabeth the November vote was much narrower, with just 51.2 percent of residents in favor of legalization — 3,327 to 3,166.

At Monday’s meeting, Patricia Grennon, chairman of the ordinance subcommittee of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council, said the rash of moratorium efforts in surrounding towns was reason enough to act.

“Because of this, there could be significant impacts to Cape Elizabeth of we become the area destination for what is permitted with the marijuana and retail marijuana businesses,” she said. “So, what we’d like to do is just kind of hit the pause button.”

The council briefly debated a suggestion by Penny Jordan to excise cultivation from the moratorium, presuming grow efforts might be made for sale outside Cape Elizabeth. However, the balance of the council preferred to exclude any function possible tied to local retail sales.

“The town attorney (who drafted the moratorium) is just trying to cover us so that we do not end up allowing something to get through the door that we may not want in this community,” Grennon said. “This just allows us time to get more information. It doesn’t mean we are not going to allow these things to happen.”

“I personally think it makes a lot of sense to just wait and learn all of the various implications of this,” Chairman Jamie Garvin said. “We’re not saying no definitively, or writing anything in stone. I see no reason we should not take the time to examine what seems to be an extremely complicated question.”

The vote to adopt the 90-day moratorium was unanimous.

In South Portland, it appears based on prior council discussion that a moratorium is headed for passage there as well.

“I support this initiative,” Councilor Brad Fox said at a Nov. 14 workshop. “I don’t think people should go to jail for smoking marijuana. I know that bothers some people, but I have believed that for about 50 years of my life now. But my personal feelings have nothing to do with it. I believe we need to implement the will of the citizens.

“Still, I support a moratorium, because I believe we need to come up with some kind of a plan as to where we are going to permit these facilities to exist,” Fox said. “We don’t want marijuana to be sold at Red’s [ice cream stand]. We probably don’t want marijuana clubs on every corner, either. The end result has to be some reasonable plan. That’s a conversation we need to have.”

Councilor Linda Cohen agreed at the Nov. 21 first reading of the moratorium, saying it is not necessarily preparatory to a full-on ban. It simply provides time to adjust zoning in reaction to a new type of business not imagined when those rules were written, she said.

“What we’re saying is we realize that establishments are going to want to come into our city and it’s our responsibility to make sure they are not plucking them down next to a school or into the middle of a residential neighborhood.

“Even though this passed twice and the community has had its say, there’s still a big chunk of the community that’s looking to us to regulate where these things can go and what can go on,” Cohen said. “We may allow marijuana to be sold at the Maine Mall, for example, but maybe we don’t think it should be grown there.”

The one opponent in South Portland of establishing a marijuana moratorium has been Councilor Claude Morgan.

“Citizens of South Portland have voted twice now in less than two years in good proportions to legalize and otherwise let marijuana out of the closet and consume it openly in our city,” he said at the November workshop. “So, I hear that. Do I endorse this? No. But we also have no restrictions other than licenses on the sale of alcohol. To me, it’s really the same thing. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and this is coming around the bend whether we like it or not. This is the way states are flipping and it’s only a matter of time before the federal laws will change.

“I believe a moratorium in order to treat sellers of marijuana differently than sellers of alcohol, so the voters cannot have their way, is a lot like father knows best, or mommy knows best,” Morgan said, signaling he would ultimately vote against the moratorium when it came up for final passage Wednesday.

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