The few Northport residents who attended a public hearing April 18 to give selectmen feedback on two proposed ordinances were outnumbered by several non-residents with concerns about wording.

Residents will vote on the two ordinances by ballot, before the annual town meeting.

In particular, Richard King of Liberty and Bonnie Preston of Blue Hill said the proposed local food sovereignty ordinance overreaches town authority by allowing its code enforcement officer to perform inspections. Both urged selectmen to consider a more common template ordinance rather than the one proposed.

Municipalities, under a state law called Maine Food Sovereignty Act, can create an ordinance that allows small farms and producers to sell products such as milk and canned goods without state inspection or a commercial retail location. Meat and poultry products are regulated and inspected through the Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection Program.

“(A local ordinance) allows local small farms to continue to produce good food without expensive facilities or equipment,” Preston said, adding many local versions of the ordinance are philosophical as well as legal.

Preston said there are no known cases of illness from consuming local foods, so “there’s not a problem with food safety. I think you should consider passing the entire local food sovereignty ordinance instead of what you have.” She noted there are forms consumers can sign releasing the farmer from liability if the consumer becomes ill.

“The ordinance doesn’t absolve anyone of liability,” King said. “The farmer is betting the farm.”

One resident said he purchases local food in Unity simply by writing a check — no liability form required.

“I’m not sure we need any more regulation,” he said.

Preston noted state law requires municipalities to opt-in to allow uninspected sales of locally produced food.

Town Administrator Barbara Ashey said the Northport ordinance had been vetted by the town attorney, who suggested including a compliance section. She said a Maine Municipal Association attorney made recommendations.

Selectmen met April 23 to discuss the concerns brought up during the public hearing. Ashey said in an email the following day several changes were made, including eliminating the enforcement portion of the ordinance. She said concerns about bake sales are unfounded. A representative of Maine's Department of Agriculture told Ashey someone selling prepared foods at a farmer's market is required to have a vendor's license.

"If the fire department, or school, is having a random bake sale or potluck supper, they (Department of Agriculture) do not get involved with that," she said. "The board feels this ordinance complies with the state statute and leaves the decision to purchase local food up to the purchaser."

There will be a public hearing on the changes to the food sovereignty ordinance Wednesday, May 9, at 6 p.m. at Edna Drinkwater School.

Discussions around retail recreational marijuana drew more local interest, with one resident asking why selectmen would want to give the impression the town is not, and will not ever be, interested in being host to a marijuana business. Zack Hollingshead, a Planning Board alternate who announced he is running for selectman, said the vote to allow recreational marijuana was very close in Northport, with only a 5-vote margin.

“I think to outright prohibit it is setting a precedent the doors are closed,” he said. “They would automatically look to another town.”

Selectman Mark Humphreys said the ordinance was proposed upon the advice of the town attorney, who expressed concern there are no rules in place. Prohibition was chosen because selectmen don’t know how residents feel about recreational marijuana, he said, and because of the lack of local law enforcement.

“You don’t really know where people stand,” Humphreys said. “Just to flush out the crowd, see where people stand.”

Hollingshead suggested a moratorium instead, as the state figures out rules to regulate the recreational market.

“I think a moratorium is better because the state is making progress finally,” he said. “It puts something in place … not closing the door on it but leaving the door open.”

Selectman Drexell White noted the state is still at least a year away from finalizing rules. He said the town has not been approached by anyone interested in establishing a recreational marijuana business.

“There are a lot of considerations and deeper discussion if there’s a retail establishment,” White said. “This doesn’t affect personal use.”

Ashey also pointed out zoning should play a part.

“I think zoning has to rear its head and Northport doesn’t have zoning,” she said, adding only shoreland parcels and subdivisions have specific restrictions.

Regarding a community conversation about recreational marijuana, Hollingshead said the ordinance prohibiting it sets the wrong tone.

“It places an undue burden on that business to persuade an entire town,” he said. “To me, that seems like having to jump over a wall that’s on fire.”

Selectmen encouraged residents to attend their meetings to offer feedback. Meetings are posted on the town website. On April 23, no changes were made to the recreational marijuana ordinance, Ashey said in an email.

"They are  going to put forward the Marijuana Ordinance as it is with no changes," she said. "Let the residents decide whether or not they want to ban social clubs and retail marijuana in Northport."