Paris mulls marijuana management

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PARIS — After a lengthy discussion at their last meeting, selectmen will continue to discuss and research recreational marijuana and its effects locally at their next meeting on Monday, Aug. 14.

At the Monday, July 24 Paris selectmen’s meeting, longtime medical marijuana caregiver and horticultural consultant Rick Jackson gave an update on the state’s progress in regulating recreation marijuana. He proposed the town form an ad hoc committee to determine how Paris will implement the new laws and gather input from residents. The committee would look at licensing, potential taxes and fees and what type of recreational marijuana facilities, if any, residents want in town.

“I think that we should work in tandem with the Legislature,” Jackson said. “If the Legislature completes its work and the rules and laws are adopted in February, then Paris has its rules and laws, local ordinances, ready to go in March or April.”

Mainers legalized the personal use, possession and cultivation of recreational marijuana by a thin margin in November 2016. Personal use and possession became legal for those 21 and older on Jan. 30, 2017.

As a result of a statewide moratorium, licenses for retail marijuana establishments – including retail marijuana stores, marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities, and marijuana social clubs – have been postponed until Feb. 1, 2018, while the Joint Committee on Marijuana Legislation Implementation and other state officials figure out regulations.

Town Manager Vic Hodgkins noted the topic is fluid. He advised selectmen to answer the first question – regardless of what happens with the state law, does the town want to control recreational marijuana in any way? This includes sticking with the state’s regulations or controlling it by outright banning commercial recreational marijuana facilities in Paris or allowing some facilities. A third option, with the approval of voters, is adopting an 180-day moratorium to temporarily ban commercial facilities and figure out the town’s regulations.

“As your town manager, what’s important to me is to make sure that I’m bringing you the information soon enough so you guys can make the wisest choice depending on which way you want to go,” he said. “Most of this, in the end, the voter will probably have an opportunity to have a say.”

Hodgkins suggested the board visit the Maine Municipal Association’s website since there is an entire section on recreational marijuana at https://memun.org/Training-Resources/Local-Government/Marijuana-Resources. In the resource area, there are templates of ordinances adopted by other communities for moratoriums and prohibition.

According to Jackson, highlights of discussion at the state level include:

  • eliminating the original 800,000 square feet of growing canopy space restriction for the entire state and not issuing restrictions on canopy space.
  • the committee leaning towards allowing municipalities to govern what happens in their towns.
  • driver and workplace impairment concerns.
  • what the “sweet spot” is for tax rates.

For the latter, the original legislation required a 10 percent tax rate, but 20 percent has been tossed around. Some worry if the tax rate is too high then there will be “diverted income [which] is a fancy way of saying, ‘black market,’” Jackson said.

Hodgkins asked if the town were to institute its own sales tax in addition to the state sales tax, would the state reimburse the town. Jackson answered that it is still in play and noted he advocates for taxing business owners.

“But with that comes expectations … of fire protection and police protection and I’m willing to pay my way for that protection, as anybody should,” he said. “It is part of the approach of getting off the black market. We want to be contributors to our community.”

Jackson referred to the town’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ordinance, which was adopted in June 2011. It limits the number of dispensaries in Paris to one and requires a $5,000 application fee on top of the state application fee. There is not a dispensary in Paris. For recreational marijuana, the town must figure out if it wants similar fees and what those would be, which is why he proposed forming a committee to examine the issue.

Resident Mike Brogan worried there would be an increased workload on law enforcement when the full law takes effect.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” responded Selectman Gary Vaughn. “I think the box has already been opened when they passed recreational marijuana. If it was going to be a big abuse problem or a big need for a whole lot of enforcement or whatever, I think that would have started to show up already.”

“Local law enforcement really needs to stay away from enforcing these types of laws – that is why it has been handed to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverage and Lottery Operations so the state can come in,” Jackson said. “They’re familiar with the laws, they know how to enforce them, they know the plant they’re dealing with.”

He also worried about a local moratorium sending the wrong message.

“A moratorium, what it clearly says to business people [is], ‘You may not be welcome here,’ … when other towns like Oxford are saying, ‘Hey, we’re open for business,’” Jackson said.

Hodgkins replied that while Jackson wants to protect his own interests, Hodgkins’ obligation is to protect the town’s interests and he thinks a moratorium does that.

Vaughn and Selectboard Chairman Scott Buffington are amenable to forming an ad hoc committee to study the issue.

Selectboard Vice Chairman Chris Summers wants the issue brought before the people.

“I really think we need to go back to the voters and say, ‘OK, this is Paris today. What do you want?’” he said.

Summers and Buffington would support a straw poll at the November election, though Buffington worried about a low turnout since it is not a big voting year.

The discussion will continue at the next selectmen’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, at the Town Office, 33 Market Square.

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