Bath council narrowly rejects marijuana moratorium

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BATH — A six-month moratorium that would have banned the location and operation of retail marijuana establishments and social clubs narrowly failed to receive first passage from the City Council Wednesday.

The panel defeated the proposed ordinance 4-3. Councilors Greg Page, Terry Nordmann, Susan Bauer and James Omo voted against it, while Sean Paulhus, Bernie Wyman and David Comeau were in favor.

The council on Wednesday also supported sending a letter of solidarity to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe concerning the North Dakota group’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The moratorium – which would have gone into effect immediately, assuming the ordinance would have received second and final passage at the council’s next meeting – was a response to the narrow passage two months ago of a statewide referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product.

Legalization takes effect Jan. 30. The state must adopt rules to regulate recreational marijuana by the end of October.

The law “sets in motion a process that is going to require a great deal of … effort to determine how all of this is going to be regulated,” City Solicitor Roger Therriault told the council. “… We simply don’t know enough at this point in time to be able to effectively sit down and try to craft any sort of ordinance response to this, as to what we want to do. This is an effort to protect ourselves going forward.”

Given the nine-month time frame for the authority’s work to take place, the city would likely need to extend the moratorium further, Therriault said.

“I’m wondering if now is the time (for the ordinance),” Page said. “Roger himself said it’s not urgent. … We can do it next month, we can do it anytime. I don’t know if I can support a moratorium now.”

Omo noted that Bath has a medical marijuana dispensary downtown, the Wellness Connection of Maine, which has “been a good addition to Bath.”

“We are already in the game,” he said. Noting that almost 60 percent of Bath residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana, Omo added, “I think that we would be doing an injustice to our citizens if we did a moratorium. … We’re a very intelligent city, and I know that we can come up with laws that will work for us.”

Pipeline opposition

A petition with more than 600 signatures asked the council to write to Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman, “conveying Bath’s solidarity with (the tribe) in its opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Protests against the pipeline have stemmed from concerns about its impact on the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last month that it would not allow the pipeline to advance.

Still, protests have continued over the process, and Bath residents including Shelley Little, who spearheaded the petition, asked for councilors to stand with the tribe.

Calling the cause “noble” and noting the hard work that went into obtaining the signatures, Page said he was conflicted by the matter.

“I personally don’t feel that 645 signatures in the city of Bath warrants me to say yes for what you’re asking,” he told those requesting the letter. “… I’m here to represent the city, and I just don’t think 645 does that.”

The council ultimately voted 5-1 in favor of drafting the letter, which city staff will return to the panel for review. Page voted in opposition, and Wyman – saying he was not informed enough on the issue – abstained from voting.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.