ME: Ellsworth City Council, Awaiting State Rules, Bans Retail Marijuana

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Ellsworth The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to ban retail marijuana businesses for now.

The ban applies to stores, social clubs and growing, testing and manufacturing facilities. It does not apply to personal use or the medical marijuana dispensary already in business in Ellsworth.

Councilors said they approved the ban because they want to give the city breathing room while the state puts regulations in place around recreational marijuana.

Maine voters passed a measure to legalize such use in November, allowing residents to grow their own plants and permitting retail facilities to sell marijuana.

A recount was called for due to the narrow measure of victory.

Opponents dropped their recount effort this week, but the state must now create specific rules for those retail marijuana businesses allowed by the new law no pot businesses can open anywhere in Maine until the rules are finalized. That process is estimated to take months, meaning that in addition to being precautionary, Ellsworths prohibition is also pre-emptive.

Ellsworths is not a permanent ban. Although language in the ordinance states it will automatically expire in two years unless it is repealed or reauthorized by the council, councilors made it clear Monday night they intend to revisit the matter before then.

I can guarantee you that Im not going to wait two years, said Councilor Gary Fortier.

Fortier said he will be watching how the rulemaking process progresses in Augusta and be sure that city staff is working on preparing local rules and regulations so that once the state is done with its work the city can revisit the matter.

We need the final rules and the final law, he said, and then its full steam ahead to get this settled so that Ellsworth can be part of the future and not hide our head in the sand. But we need the time.

Councilor Dawn Ihle Hudson agreed, saying the ordinance gives the city protection and a time-out to come up with rules so that it if the council later chooses to allow retail marijuana in the city, it can do so on its own terms.

Were not sure what were going to have and where we want it, said Council Chairman John Phillips, summarizing where things stand at the moment and why the council supports the ban.

During Monday nights meeting, the council heard from five members of the public, none of whom agreed exactly with what the council was doing.

Joe Lusardi, executive director of Maine Organic Therapy (the medical marijuana dispensary in Ellsworth) noted Gov. Paul LePage said he thinks Maine should scrap the medical marijuana program now that any adult will be able to get pot.

Lusardi said if that comes to pass, combined with Ellsworths prohibition on businesses that would sell marijuana, it would create a vacuum for a black market for marijuana in the city.

If you want to have drug deals going on in every parking lot in this town, then thats what this prohibition will do, he said.

Councilors disagreed, noting that the citys ordinance specifically states it does not apply to medical marijuana. What the state does or does not do, meanwhile, is beyond municipal control.

The Governor says a lot of things, said Councilor Bob Crosthwaite, addressing Lusardis concerns about what LePage wants to do.

Steve Joy questioned why the council was moving to ban retail marijuana establishments in the city when earlier this year, the council opened up the entire commercial zoning district to the medical marijuana dispensary.

Joy was the dispensarys landlord when it was located on Carriage Way off of the Bucksport Road, in a $250,000 building he had built specifically for its use. The dispensary moved to Myrick Plaza at the corner of Myrick and High streets earlier this year after the council approved the zoning change. Joy said that vote and the councils actions Monday presented a mixed message.

Ive concluded from your vote last time that marijuana isnt that bad and can be anywhere in Ellsworths commercial district, said Joy. The push for a ban suggested otherwise, he said.

Joy accused the council of hiding behind rulemaking, and said the 27-page law passed by voters in November is already very specific. Councilors said state officials have authority to potentially make major changes to the law, however.

Joy and David Legere, another speaker, both said the two-year time frame bothered them. Legere said he favored a six-month moratorium.

Councilors stressed that the two-year reference is an outside limit and that they fully intend and expect to tackle the matter again before then. They said a moratorium was not appropriate in this situation.

There was other support for a time frame of more than two years. Tara Young, who said she has three children, called the ordinance a just the beginning of a good start. She expressed concern about products being marketed to appeal to children and that those products would find their way into local schools.

Debra Porter, meanwhile, a real estate agent and registered nurse, said she thought the prohibition was a mistake. She talked about her experience of visiting Colorado and seeing how successful retail marijuana is there both for the businesses that sell it and the towns that host them, which see higher tax revenue.

Councilors noted Maines marijuana law is unlike Colorados and communities such as Ellsworth would not see the same financial benefit.

Councilors who spoke Monday said they recognize the reality that marijuana has been legalized in Maine and that, in Hudsons words, theres no point in pretending its not here.

If recreational marijuana is a legal commodity in the state of Maine, why the hell are we trying to stop it? said Fortier, explaining his initial reaction and opposition to any sort of ban. Are you going to stop broccoli next week?

Fortier said he had been swung to the side of doing it right, however, meaning hitting the pause button for the city and making sure officials ranging from the Planning Department to police officers are prepared to handle it if and when it does come to Ellsworth.

Councilor Steve Beathem said the city could hold public hearings before it revisits retail marijuana in order to get input, but Crosthwaite questioned if that was necessary. He noted that the vote in Ellsworth split almost eight percentage points against legalizing marijuana, and said to him that is a clear indication of how the people feel about it.

Im not going to support something that the people have already told me, Were not for this, were against it, he said.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Ellsworth City Council, Awaiting State Rules, Bans Retail Marijuana
Author: Steve Fuller
Contact: (207)667-2576
Photo Credit: Steve Fuller
Website: The Ellsworth American