Town meeting

Cannabis gets cold reception in Searsport

By Stephanie Grinnell | Mar 13, 2017
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Police Chief Dick LaHaye keeps a close eye on the ballot box as voters weigh in on a moratorium to ban retail marijuana sales.

Coffee and chowder sales were brisk during the annual Town Meeting March 11 as voters shivered their way through the 46-article warrant at Searsport District High/Middle School.

With howling wind and temperatures in single digits, the chill in the cafeteria became a hot topic. One resident asked if the heat could be increased, but custodial staff shook their heads. Another resident jokingly proposed including a new article in future warrants to allow the heat in the building to be turned up for town meeting.

At the mid-point of the meeting, as residents returned to their seats from a lunch break, Town Manager James Gillway pointed out attendance has been fewer than 100 people for several years and said unless there were objections, town staff will plan to have next year's Town Meeting in Union Hall, where the heat can be controlled. He thanked school representatives, noting the heat was not under their control, either, and said they should not be blamed.

Town just says no

During the meeting, residents approved an ordinance to prohibit all recreational marijuana retail and wholesale sales, cultivation, product manufacturing, testing facilities and social clubs. A few questions were asked from the gallery, including whether there were any proposals pending — there aren't. A few people spoke about the ordinance before the secret ballot written vote, and all of them opposed it.

Harlan McLaughlin said there are many people struggling to make ends meet. He described recreational marijuana as "an economic opportunity" that would be spoiled by approval of the ordinance. McLaughlin also said he is not comfortable telling his neighbors how to use their land. Steve Bulloch agreed with the economic implications but for a different reason, he said.

"I'm looking at it more to help business as a whole," he said, noting there is a built-in market downtown with tourist traffic passing through who might also stop at other local businesses.

Dr. James Stevenson said he has mixed feelings based on his past experience with marijuana as well as his medical knowledge. He compared the substance to beer or tobacco and said all are intoxicants. Regulating recreational marijuana by ordinance, he said, is akin to banning brew pubs in town.

"I don't want my town to be the place people stop to get their dope," Stevenson said. "But (the ordinance) would exclude some economic opportunities."

Bud Rivers shared his thoughts as well.

"Shutting things off before the state has decided what the rules will be concerns me," he said. "It looks like a preemptive strike to hinder growth."

Gillway responded to a resident's question regarding state regulations and what those regulations might mean for Searsport. He said state rules are still being developed and will fall under land use regulations.

Gillway noted residents may still grow and recreationally use marijuana under the new state law — they just can't purchase or sell it. His motion to use a written ballot for the vote was approved, and residents approved the ordinance 51-24.

New weight behind postings

There were 86 registered voters in attendance and while there were few questions and little additional debate, the meeting stretched to nearly four hours. Most social service agencies received amounts as requested but three were not as lucky. Swan Lake Association, Midcoast Maine Community Action and Friends of Sears Island all received lesser amounts.

Voters approved another new ordinance allowing the town to restrict vehicle weight on town-posted roads. Gillway said some towns received notice from Maine Municipal Association that ordinances governing vehicle weight restrictions had errors. Gillway said the town posts its roads and he attempted to verify the language but "discovered we didn't have an ordinance when I went looking."

Residents also agreed to borrow up to $1 million to reconstruct some roads and overlay pave others. Gillway said the money is less than half the funding needed to fix all of the roads.

"But our roads for the better part of 15 years were not touched," he said, noting that borrowing money remains "cheap" because of low interest rates. "This was a better number, it keeps us below LD 1."

If asphalt prices rise, Gillway said, the money may not be borrowed.

By the third hour of town meeting, nearly everyone had donned outdoor gear to keep warm, including Selectmen Doug Norman, Aaron Fethke, Dick Desmarais and Jack Merrithew, from left. (Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell)
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Stephanie Grinnell
(207) 338-3333 ext. 110
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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