Gray council extends marijuana moratorium

The Gray Town Council voted unanimously to extend the town's moratorium on marijuana retail stores and social clubs for another six months. 

GRAY – The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to extend Gray’s moratorium on marijuana retail stores and social clubs, effectively banning those establishments in Gray for at least another six months.

The move extends the previous 180-day moratorium put in place by the council last September, which attempted to get ahead of the uncertainty surrounding  Question 1 on the November ballot that was narrowly passed by Maine voters.

While that successful referendum legalized recreational marijuana in Maine, it also gives municipalities the authority to draft local ordinances that limit – or even prohibit all together – the number of marijuana businesses that can operate within their town.

The text of the new law passed by voters, the Marijuana Legalization Act,  says that “a municipality may regulate the number of retail marijuana stores and the location and operation of retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs and may prohibit the operation of retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs within its jurisdiction.”

Doug Webster, Gray’s community development director, said it’s possible that drafting potential town ordinances on this issue could take a “major” amount of staff and Ordinance Advisory Committee time.

“Typical ordinance writing involves looking to see what other towns do. We don’t really have too many templates to choose from,” said Webster. “Let’s not reinvent the wheel.”

During the meeting, several council members referenced the uncertainty surrounding marijuana laws at the state and federal levels. State agencies continue to work on implementing the new law with input from a special 17-member legislative committee, and questions are swirling about how the U.S. Department of Justice will approach state marijuana legalization laws under the Trump Administration. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Council Chairman Lewis Mancini discussed the reasoning behind the moratorium, and cited “the issues at the federal level, and the fact that even the state is taking another look at this and trying to wrap their arms around it.”

Given those factors, Mancini said the recommendation from town attorney Bill Dale was to extend the initial moratorium for another 180 days.

While the council was in agreement on extending the moratorium, there was some debate about how soon the town should dedicate time and effort to drafting potential ordinances.

“I support the action that’s been proposed, but would urge that we not spend a great deal of time perusing it, because this is changing with lightning speed all over the state, all over the region,” said Councilor Richard Barter about the ordinance drafting process. “And while we want to do due diligence and recognize that this is not just a witch hunt on our part, neither do we want to take time out of other projects that really need staff  focus and support.”

Council Vice Chair Lynn Gallagher, however, said that the town cannot pass another moratorium extension after this one expires in 180 days.

“I understand the wait and see aspect, but I worry that if we let it lie, that six months is not a long time, and it’s going to come up quick,” said Gallagher. “So, I would like to see us start to get working on something sooner rather than later.”

Webster said after the meeting that the next steps will be to consult further with the town legal counsel, engage the Maine Municipal Association to keep track of what other towns are doing on this issue, and then put together a timeline for action.

That timeline would set target dates to make sure there is time to get standards in place before the moratorium expires.

The Gray Town Council voted unanimously to extend the town’s moratorium on marijuana retail stores and social clubs for another six months.