Oxford committee to study recreational marijuana in town

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OXFORD — An ad hoc committee on recreational marijuana wants residents to weigh in on prohibiting or regulating recreational marijuana in Oxford.

The committee, which is calling itself the Adult Use Marijuana Committee, was set up by the Board of Selectmen on Oct. 5 to review the need for an ordinance or regulations on retail marijuana establishments and social clubs following Maine’s legalization of recreational marijuana last November.

The first meeting of the committee took place on Wednesday, Oct. 18, when Town Manager Butch Asselin was appointed chairman of the ad hoc committee that includes Roger Wulleman, Rosemary Nicklaus, Police Chief Jon Tibbetts, Town Clerk Elizabeth Olsen, who were all present, and Selectman Peter Laverdiere, Ron Kugell, Dennis Fournier and Dana Dillingham.

The three-page survey, which is still in draft form, asks if the town should prohibit the establishment of all retail marijuana establishments including cultivators, retail stores, manufacturers, lab testing facilities and social clubs.

If a resident answers yes to the first question, there is no need to go further, said  Olsen. If they answer no, other questions follow including: whether retail marijuana establishments should be limited, what type of retail marijuana establishment (such as retail stores and social clubs) should be limited, whether they should be prohibited from certain parts of town and other questions.

The committee expects to finalize the survey at its Wednesday, Nov. 1 meeting, then have it ready for distribution at a table during the Tuesday, Nov. 7 referendum, and special town election election at the Public Safety Building and in other places, such as the Oxford Municipal Building.

Two members of the ad hoc committee – Nicklaus and Wulleman – have  stated publicly at the ad hoc committee’s meeting that they want an ordinance that will prohibit retail marijuana sales, social clubs and cultivation in Oxford, but others have not yet voiced an opinion.

The ad hoc committee agreed that residents must be involved and that education was necessary for all to make a “lasting and enforceable” ordinance, according to the draft minutes of the meeting.

One of the goals will be to implement a moratorium that will allow the ad hoc committee more time to do its work.

Asselin said residents will be asked to approve a six-month moratorium on retail pot sometime after the new year.

“There is still much work to be done,” Asselin told the Advertiser Democrat.

Zoning vs. prohibition

While Oxford’s ad hoc committee is in its infancy, its members have been provided with a number of documents from other cities and towns that have aleardy dealt with the issue.

Asselin, who previously served as Houlton’s town manager and police chief prior to his appointment in August as Oxford town manager, presented members with information, including a recent position statement from Houlton Police Chief Timothy DeLuca. Like many town and cities in the state, Houlton’s Town Council has been grappling with retail marijuana issues in terms of regulating versus prohibiting retail marijuana.

In his statement, DeLuca told the Houlton Town Council that since Maine voters had already debated the questions of marijuana’s effects on health, whether it was right or wrong, good or bad, the question has to be whether to regulate or prohibit the commercial regulation and retail sale within Houlton.

Although he remained neutral in the discussion, DeLuca said his priority as a law enforcement officer was eliminating exposure and safeguarding families and youth by zoning.

“I would rather regulate than prohibit,” he said, because it gives the town the opportunity to have control over the legalization of marijuana through zoning rather than no control through prohibition.

Under Houlton’s new ordinance, for example, commercial facilities will only be allowed in Houlton at specific areas such as the airport. They would be prohibited from drug-free safe zones or within 500 feet of a pre-existing private or public school, daycare facility, town park or house of public worship.

The ordinance also lays out security requirements for any such facilities, including alarms, lights and locks, video surveillance and so forth.

Future work

The Oxford ad hoc committee also reviewed other handouts, including the Maine Municipal Association’s testimony in the new marijuana legislation and other ordinances and moratoriums implemented by other Maine communities.

Oxford committee members agreed at their Oct. 18 meeting that an ordinance would need to be in place when the state law came into effect in order to have the permanent ordinance voted on at a regularly scheduled meeting, according to the draft minutes of the meeting.

All agreed that education and public input would be important to have a successful process.

The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Town Office. Minutes of all meetings will be posted on the town website, Asselin said. The public is encouraged to attend the meetings.

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