Gray extends pot ban again, eyes ordinance

The Gray Town Council listens to public comment on a proposed extension of the town's retail marijuana moratorium.

GRAY — The Gray town council voted 4-0 Tuesday night to once again extend its current retail marijuana moratorium for an additional 180 days.

The council previously extended the temporary ban in March, and that extension was set to expire in early September. The new moratorium will expire in early 2018.

Several councilors also went on record saying that they would eventually like to see a town ordinance banning retail marijuana establishments in the town.

“When I look at all the information that I’ve learned, I do not see enough value for the town, and the law allows us to have Gray be a dry community,” said Councilor Dan Maguire. “And that’s what I would propose: that we not allow the cultivation, the processing, the testing, or the retail sales of marijuana in Gray.”

“I absolutely agree,” said councilor Bruce Foshay following Maguire’s remarks.

Maguire’s comments came after Town Manager Deborah Cabana indicated that town planning staff would welcome some direction from the council as to what type of ordinance they may need to draft.

“I have no problem giving them direction on the retail side of it as far as head shops and smoke shops,” said Councilor Jason Wilson, who opposed those types of businesses in town. “If they want more time to deliberate over the cultivation side of it, that’s fine.”

Gray Community Development Director Doug Webster has said previously that the town often looks to ordinances from other municipalities and would try not to “reinvent the wheel” with a marijuana ordinance.

Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher said that she went into this issue “with an open mind,” but that she still sees too many unknowns.

“I would be in favor of a dry community as well,” Gallagher said.

Two former councilors, Richard Barter, now a SAD 15 school board member, and Matt Sturgis, now town manager in Cape Elizabeth, also spoke during the public comment session to express oppostion to retail marijuana in the town.

Maguire noted that regardless of what the council does on the commercial side, recreational use of marijuana is still legal across the state in the wake of the successful referendum to legalize the drug last November.

“Obviously, it’s a passionate issue. Obviously, the law was passed. The law allows individuals to possess and use marijuana,” Maguire said. He stressed that no matter what action the council takes, the law allows for recreational use of marijuana.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of marijuana during the public hearing.

Susan McHugh, who said she recently moved to Gray and is a disabled Army veteran, advocated for commercial grow operations in town and highlighted her struggles with alcohol as a comparison between the two substances.

“I’m here to support commercial growth of cannabis,” she said, noting that she wasn’t advocating for over-the-counter retail sales in town. “I do support the tax revenue that would be coming in.”

“I am a cannabis user, I’m a disabled veteran. I’m 47 – served during Desert Storm and Desert Shield. And I can tell you the effects of alcohol,” said McHugh, outlining the negative affects that alcohol has had on her as she’s tried to manage her pain.

After the meeting, McHugh’s husband Troy said that “if it wasn’t for cannabis, she wouldn’t be alive.”

Susan McHugh suggested a shorter moratorium extension of 30, 60 or 90 days. Her medical marijuana caregiver, Jim Hamilton, would like to start a commercial grow operation in Gray and has attended several council meetings, including the one Tuesday night.

Hamilton said that his company, Grassroots LLC, is looking to start a cultivation operation in town to grow marijuana “very discreetly” in an “extremely, extremely regulated situation” and is not looking to open an over-the-counter sales location in Gray. He said he would like to open a retail location in Portland.

“The fact is that the majority of registered voters that showed up for the vote in Gray did say — while it was a thin margin — the majority of people did say they want to see recreational marijuana,” he said.

Mirroring results at the state level, Gray voters narrowly passed the marijuana legalization referendum last November 2,476 to 2,413.

Despite his ultimate opposition to retail marijuana in the town, Maguire commended Hamilton for his approach with the council.

“I can only hope that the rest of the people in this industry have the same kind of integrity and presence that Mr. Hamilton has presented,” Maguire said. “Unfortunately, we can’t create an ordinance, in my mind, based on your integrity.”

Gray resident Scott Gagnon led the ultimately unsuccessful “No on 1” campaign against marijuana legalization in the state, and spoke Tuesday night in favor of extending the moratorium and eventually prohibiting retail marijuana in Gray.

Gagnon called retail marijuana “a net loser” for the town despite the suggestion by some that it could generate tax revenue.

Gagnon said his family chose to move to Gray three years ago because of the “strong community, family-first values and a healthy, positive environment that encourages youth to thrive.”

He argued that allowing retail marijuana development “flies in the face of those qualities.”

Maguire stressed that future councils could revisit the issue as well.

Sandy Carder, the council’s fifth member, was absent for Tuesday night’s meeting. Gallagher said her absence was excused.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.