STANDISH — The Town Council has banned retail marijuana establishments and social clubs in Standish, but not without opposition and friction among the group.
The council voted 5-2 on Tuesday, Jan. 9, to approve an ordinance banning all retail marijuana activity in the town.
“We don’t need dope peddlers in Standish,” said Councilor Michael Delcourt.
Council Chairwoman Kimberly Pomerlea said she struggled with her decision to support the prohibition of retail marijuana in town, particularly because of possible economic development opportunities.
“I really don’t care what you people do: you can grow it, you can smoke it, I don’t care. You can use it medically, I have no opinion on that at all,” Pomerleau said. “I just don’t think we’re ready for (retail marijuana), I really don’t.”
The two dissenting votes came from Councilor Isabel Higgins, who chairs the council’s ordinance subcommittee, and Councilor Peter Starostecki.
“Meetings like tonight are the reason that I ran for the council, because I was in the audience, and the majority of the people in the audience wanted things done one way and the council voted the other,” Higgins said. “And it aggravated the heck out of me. So here I am. Now I’m aggravated on this side of the table.”
Nearly all of the members of the public who spoke Tuesday night were opposed to prohibiting retail marijuana in town.
Higgins said “the economic opportunity is enormous” and that the ordinance was unnecessary in light of the town’s existing moratorium on retail marijuana.
“We can extend that moratorium – we can give ourselves plenty of time to write an ordinance that gives us control,” she said.
The town had already extended its moratorium on retail marijuana establishments and social clubs in October, continuing the town’s temporary ban on retail marijuana through April 25, 2018.
“Let’s take our time, and write some reasonable ordinances that everybody can agree on, and allow the economic development to begin,” said Starostecki while pushing to table the vote. “If we don’t do that, and we go ahead and strike the ban, all these business are going to go someplace else — to another town. And we’re going to lose out.”
Starostecki was the only councilor to vote against extending the moratorium in October, when he argued that the town could expand economic development opportunities by embracing retail marijuana.
At one point during his comments Tuesday night, Starostecki singled out Delcourt.
“You can’t look away from me, Mike. I know you can hear me,” Starostecki told Delcourt.
Delcourt responded by saying that it wasn’t a debate.
“Talk to them, not to me,” Delcourt told Starostecki. “I don’t want to hear you. I don’t like to hear you.”
It was the second straight council meeting that the two men had a tense moment on the subject.
The heated exchange Tuesday night almost didn’t happen, as the council voted earlier in the meeting on a motion from Council Vice Chairman Greg Sirpis to recuse Starostecki from the discussion.
Starostecki’s young son uses medical cannabis oil to help manage his many siezures.
The recusal conversation had echoes of a November council meeting were Sirpis was eventually recused because of his dual roles as a councilor and president of the Standish Fish and Game Club.
The suggestion that Starostecki be recused first came from a member of the public who said that Starostecki’s family experience with medical marijuana made it impossible for him to be unbiased on marijuana votes taken by the town.
“As a father, he should stop at nothing to help his little boy,” said Beth Brown-Malia, who said she applauded any parent’s effort to support their child. “But with that being said, there’s no way that he can step out of the role of father to a child with special needs and be unbiased in any of these votes. He must recuse himself in order to be a great dad fighting for his son.”
The vote to recuse Starostecki failed after only three councilors – Pomerleau, Sirpis and Delcourt – voted in favor of it.
While he has strongly supported retail marijuana as a member of the council, Starostecki has said previously that he opposed the statewide marijuana referendum in 2016 because he was worried the medical marijuana program would get caught up in the retail discussion.
Starostecki later made an unsuccessful motion to move the retail marijuana issue to a town referendum. The vote failed on a 5-2 margin, with only he and Higgins supporting the motion.
Higgins also made a motion of her own, suggesting an amendment to exempt retail marijuana growing, manufacturing and testing from the ordinance change (so as to restrict the prohibition to establishments actually selling marijuana and social clubs). Her motion failed along the same lines as the other votes.
Councilor Steven Nesbitt, who ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance change, said he was still willing to work with the ordinance committee on what an ordinance allowing some retail marijuana in town would look like.
“If we do move forward with the ban, it can be changed,” Nesbitt said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Standish Town Councilors Michael Delcourt, far left, and Peter Starostecki, far right, had a heated exchange for the second council meeting in a row while discussing retail marijuana.