PORTLAND, Maine — Towns and cities around the state are taking a cautious approach to the new Maine marijuana law that legalizes marijuana and are considering moratoriums on the sale of the drug within their limits.
Maine voters approved the referendum in November, and the secretary of state’s office signed off on the results Wednesday. But it could be months before the state completes the rule-making process governing the legal cultivation and sale of marijuana.
Meanwhile, the Maine Municipal Association is advising towns and cities to adopt moratoriums to prevent “unwanted developments” with new marijuana businesses until the regulations, including local guidelines, are approved.
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Officials in more than 30 municipalities are at least considering local moratoriums and other measures that would ban pot sales. And at least 11 communities, including some of the state’s largest cities, such as Portland, South Portland and Bangor, have OK’d six-month moratoriums on marijuana-related businesses.
A handful of towns, including Oakland, Skowhegan and Westbrook, are going further with a push for outright bans. Westbrook’s city council president cited his concern about unknown burdens like the cost of lawsuits concerning marijuana licenses.
“All of those unknowns end up taking time and money from cities who really don’t have it,” said the councilman, Brendan Rielly.
David Boyer, campaign manager for Yes On 1, said supporters of legal marijuana respect the right of cities and towns to regulate marijuana as they see fit and noted that local control of marijuana licenses is written into the proposed law. But, he added, allowing licensed marijuana businesses to set up is a chance to take pot off street corners and into legitimate businesses.
“These towns have their head in the sand if they think they are stopping marijuana from being sold by putting a moratorium on marijuana,” he said. “Marijuana’s being sold in every town in this state.”
Republican Gov. Paul LePage has until the end of December to issue a proclamation of the referendum results. The law would then take effect 30 days later, allowing residents to grow marijuana for personal use in their own homes.
But LePage, who has called marijuana “deadly,” has questioned whether legalization of recreational marijuana can be implemented in Maine. He recently said he would seek legal advice about enforcing the new law while federal law continues to list marijuana as a dangerous controlled substance. He also has expressed concern that pot shops would set up near schools and at state fairs.
The adoption of the rules for commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana for recreational use also could be an involved process. The law that voters approved says the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry would be the state licensing authority, and would have nine months to set up the rules.
In South Berwick, Town Manager Perry Ellsworth said uncertainty over how the rulemaking process will play out is part of the reason why a moratorium will be on the agenda in his community at an upcoming meeting. He said the push to put the brakes on marijuana businesses is about approaching legalization with caution. He said the town wants to see what the state and other municipalities do.
“We won’t be making knee-jerk reactions,” Ellsworth said.