OXFORD — Voters will decide if they want a 180-day moratorium on retail marijuana-related activities when a Special Town Meeting gets underway Thursday, Jan. 4.
Selectmen voted unanimously and without comment at the Dec. 7 meeting to hold the town meeting during the upcoming regularly-scheduled selectmen’s meeting. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the town office.
If approved, the moratorium will mean that during that time no application related to the establishment or operation of a business or operation of a retail marijuana establishment and/or retail marijuana social club can be accepted, processed or acted on for any approval, including but not limited to a license, building permit, certificate of occupancy, site plan review, conditional use, or any other approval by the town of Oxford.
The moratorium would expire after 180 days, if an extension is not approved or a more permanent solution, such as an outright prohibition, is OK’d.
The move to put a moratorium in place was recommended by an ad hoc committee, that 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, after concerns were raised by residents and officials following Maine’s legalization of recreational marijuana in November of 2016.
Peter Laverdiere chairs the ad hoc committee and the Board of Selectmen. Other members include residents Roger Wulleman and Rosemary Nicklaus, Town Manager Butch Asselin, Fire Chief Gary Sacco, Town Clerk Elizabeth Olsen, SAD 17 Director Chairman Ronald Kugell, and Planning Board member Dana Dillingham.
Concerns are for public safety and welfare, including, but not limited to, the potential adverse effects on neighborhoods, security of the facilities, and odors that may create a public nuisance or hazard, according to the moratorium.
It is also being requested because of an increasing number of requests to establish grow facilities and the fact that the town’s existing ordinances do not provide an adequate mechanism to regulate and control the location and operation of retail marijuana establishments and retail marijuana social clubs, according to the moratorium.
The majority of the ad hoc committee voted at its Nov. 29 meeting to use the moratorium ordinance adopted by the town of Freeport as a template for Oxford, but with some slight modifications. Other towns have used this document as a template. The Maine Municipal Association also provides a version used by some towns and cities.
Freeport has three ordinances that relate to marijuana, the latest, voted on in July by town councilors created an ordinance that prohibits retail marijuana establishments and retail social clubs.
If Oxford voters say yes to the moratorium, the town will join Freeport, Bangor, Portland, Brewer, Gray and Westbrook and other cities and towns across the state that have implemented or considered temporary bans on businesses that could open as soon as state legislators work out issues being debated in the retail recreational marijuana legislation.
On Nov. 8, 2016, Maine voters approved Question 1 and joined eight other states to legalize the recreational use, retail sale and taxation of marijuana. On Jan. 27, 2017, the Legislature placed a moratorium on certain parts of the law regarding retail sales and taxation until at least February 2018.
Towns can regulate the number, location and operation of retail marijuana stores, cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities and social clubs, and can impose a local licensing requirement. As with alcohol sales, cities and towns can vote on whether or not to be a “dry town” regarding marijuana retail establishments and social clubs.
Private marijuana possession and growing will still be allowed under current state law even in towns that ban retail businesses.
The portion of the law that allows persons older than 21 to grow six mature plants and possess 2.5 ounces became effective on Jan. 30, 2017. Regardless of these changes to Maine law, marijuana is still illegal on the federal level.