Standish moves toward ban on retail pot

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STANDISH — The Town Council has voted to advance an ordinance change that would ban retail marijuana establishments and social clubs in Standish. 

The town had already extended its moratorium on those establishments in October, continuing the town’s temporary ban on retail marijuana through April 25, 2018. 

The new push for a more permanent, but still changeable, ordinance comes as the Legislature continues to work out the details on how to implement the Marijuana Legalization Act narrowly passed by voters in November 2016. 

The council voted 5-2 on Nov. 14 to advance the proposed ordinance change. It also set a time line for future action on the ordinance change, which has a first reading on Dec. 12 and public hearing on Jan. 9 before it can be implemented. 

The ordinance change was proposed by Councilor Brian Libby, a member of the council’s ordinance subcommittee. 

Resident Maurie Hill asked Libby about the rational behind a change. 

“I’m just doing it on its merits that we have the right as a town to be more restrictive than the state was,” answered Libby. “As any ordinance, this can be tweaked.” 

Council Chairwoman Kimberly Pomerleau, Vice Chairman Greg Sirpis, Councilor Michael Delcourt and Councilor Steven Nesbitt joined Libby in supporting the ordinance change’s advancement. 

Nesbitt emphasized that this was just a step in a three-month process and that the change did not yet have his final support. 

“I’m very much on the fence, I’ve been back and forth with this. I’m not one to fully embrace recreational marijuana for retail sales in the town. I think as a limited use, I can see that happening. Maybe there’s some sort of compromises that need to be done,” he said.

Councilor Isabel Higgins, who chairs the ordinance subcommittee, voted against the proposal, as did Councilor Peter Starostecki, who also serves on that committee. 

“This was passed, both by the state of Maine and by the people of Standish – to legalize marijuana,” said Councilor Isabel Higgins. “We passed the moratorium in order to give us time to deal with making ordinances, looking at options for ordinances. And I think that this kind of flies in the face of that because this just shuts the door.” 

“I think we need to keep an open mind, and I cannot support a ban at this time, because our ordinance committee has work to do,” she continued, adding that she was “delighted” to hear feedback from the public. 

Starostecki was the lone councilor to vote against the marijuana moratorium extension in October, suggesting that the town could benefit from economic development if it allowed retail marijuana businesses to operate there. He said he has worked on draft ordinances to make that possible. 

Starostecki appeared frustrated during the discussion. 

“I’m insulted that you would go ahead and pass this ban,” he said, adding that the ordinances he drafted were currently in legal review. 

The council received public comment from various residents and people from neighboring towns, some who urged the council to oppose the proposed ordinance and shared their personal or family experience with medical marijuana. 

The council also heard from state Rep. Don Marean, R-Hollis, who serves on the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation, which is working on regulations related to the new law. 

Marean gave an update on recent action on the issue in Augusta, where the Legislature passed a bill that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage on Nov. 3. 

“The bill was voted through the House and Senate, and vetoed by the governor. We couldn’t muster up enough votes to override the veto, so the bill is dead,” said Marean, who stressed he was not there to speak for or against the proposal in Standish. 

“The MLI Committee will be working as soon as we reconvene in January … in putting together a new bill – trying to fix some of the areas that folks are concerned about,” Marean continued. 

The governor’s reasons for opposing the bill included potential conflicts with federal law, his concerns about the state’s existing medical marijuana program, the regulatory mechanisms in the bill, and his concern about expanded legalization of marijuana in the state. 

Marean emphasized that marijuana use is already legal in Maine with the passage of last year’s referendum. The Legislature passed a statewide moratorium on the retail sale of marijuana in January, and now it is trying to determine how to regulate that side of the equation. That statewide moratorium expires on Feb. 1, 2017, and Marean suspects the Legislature will extend it in early 2017. 

“What we’re doing in Augusta is, we’re not voting to legalize marijuana. It’s already legal,” Marean said in Standish last week. “We’re only voting to regulate it.” 

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

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