Stockton residents share pot views

By Stephanie Grinnell | Nov 04, 2017
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Stockton Springs town officials created this survey to gauge residents' position on retail recreational marijuana. The survey is available at the Town Office.

Stockton Springs — A public hearing the day before Gov. Paul LePage vetoed an amended bill outlining recreational marijuana legalization rules drew residents from both sides of the issue.

Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell laid out two possible scenarios for residents Nov. 2. The citizen referendum passed in November 2016 would allow retail sales in all towns unless a full ban or regulatory ordinance is adopted. The vetoed legislation, LD 1650, would have changed that to an opt-in process in which a municipality would have had to approve the retail sale of marijuana within its jurisdiction.

O'Donnell noted the term “retail marijuana” covers a lot of different enterprises, ranging from retail stores to social clubs to large-scale cultivation facilities.

With the governor's veto, O'Donnell said she recommends citizens attend a special town meeting to approve a moratorium on retail recreational marijuana. A moratorium puts on hold any retail marijuana applications until town voters approve a regulatory ordinance or choose to ban retail sales. Moratoriums can last up to 180 days and be extended for another 180 days if needed.

Personal use for those older than 21 on private property will be allowed in Maine starting in February 2018. Without a moratorium or ordinance in place, Stockton Springs officials would be obligated to consider any applications for retail marijuana, including storefronts, social clubs and mass cultivation facilities, O'Donnell said. The vetoed LD 1650 would have delayed social clubs until 2019.

“It could get pretty complicated,” O'Donnell said of crafting an ordinance around retail marijuana activities. She noted medical marijuana rules remain in place and are separate from recreational uses.

Citing the economic benefits, resident Tim Woitowitz said he is in favor of allowing retail sales.

“I would welcome a dispensary,” he said. “Stockton, if you know you want to bring revenue in and make money, keep an open mind. I'd love to have one here.”

Woitowitz has been active at the state and local levels and said many of his suggestions — regulating marijuana like alcohol, treating marijuana like any other drug available at pharmacies — fell on deaf ears. He said the state hopes to monetize marijuana in every way possible.

“It has nothing to do with safety or health; it's all about money,” he said.

Selectman Tom Fraser raised concerns about increased crime and the need for a larger police presence if retail marijuana is approved but Woitowitz contends use of marijuana does not increase crime. He pointed to the increasing statewide problem of opioid abuse and heroin use as much larger contributors to crime.

“If you take the money out of it (marijuana), there's no reason to sell it illegally,” he said, making a comparison to alcohol prohibition.

Selectman Peter Curley said he's spoken with police about the possibility of retail marijuana and what it might mean.

“They say it's not going to promote goodness in the town,” Curley said.

Resident John Barkley urged residents to do a lot of research before making any decision. He said there are different types of THC — the ingredient in marijuana that causes a high — and police are not equipped to test for all of them.

“If it's eventually going to be approved, people need to understand the fallout,” he said. “… A retail establishment would not be in the best interests of this community.”

Long-time educator and Regional School Unit 20 Board of Directors member Bill Cosmano said he is against allowing retail sales.

“As a dean working with high school students, I will tell you marijuana is a gateway drug,” he said. “It doesn't make any sense to approve this.”

While the public hearing lasted just 45 minutes, the town has created a survey for residents to submit anonymously that outlines a position on retail sales. The surveys are available at the Town Office.

A date for the special town meeting has not been set.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the correct moratorium duration.

 

 

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Stephanie Grinnell
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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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