BRUNSWICK — The Town Council unanimously enacted an emergency 50-day moratorium to prohibit the licensing and operation of marijuana retailers and social clubs Monday night.
The council also set public hearings on two ordinances that will attempt to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags sold in the town.
Separately, councilors authorized the town to accept waste from other towns, in an attempt to generate extra revenue for the upcoming closure of Graham Hill landfill.
The moratorium folloows the successful state referendum to legalize and regulate marijuana, and was passed in tandem with scheduling of a public hearing for Dec. 15 meeting on extension of the moratorium to 180 days.
The Town Charter limits emergency moratoriums to 50 days without public hearings.
The extension, as explained by Town Manager John Eldridge and Chairwoman Sarah Brayman, is in anticipation that the 50-day period will not allow enough time to draft and vote on a regular ordinance, which would determine local restrictions and regulations.
Councilors also acknowledged that a future ordinance would be conditioned on the result of a statewide recount of the Nov. 8 ballot measure, due to the close margin by which it passed.
Several Maine communities have passed similar moratoriums to prevent marijuana retailers from seeking prior to the enactment of a town ordinance, effectively grandfathering themselves into custom agreements.
Eldridge described the moratorium as a precautionary move that allows the town to “get our arms” around the new law. According to a memo he sent to the council, Brunswick’s “current ordinances do not address retail marijuana facilities as described in the (Marijuana Legalization Act).”
Councilor Jane Millett, who represents the downtown District 6, sponsored the moratorium, and told the council she has already heard “inklings” of people interested in taking advantage of the new law. She said she received at least two calls from constituents who are worried over sudden “facilities in our midst” before the council has had opportunity to write local restrictions.
Anna Breinich, director of planning and development, said her department has already started to research what steps it will take toward planning for retail locations and social clubs – specifically, what other states have done at the municipal level.
Breinich suggested the council should hold a workshop to consider the possibilities for a future ordinance. Eldridge said that discussion would revolve around the questions of “how many and where.”
Councilors voted to set a public hearing in early 2017 to hear input about an ordinance that would ban single-use plastic bags at all retailers in town.
The ordinance deviates from what the Recycling and Sustainability Committee recommended at a September workshop, where it proposed a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags for businesses where food items account for at least 2 percent of sales.
Ultimately, after an hour of discussion and a failed 5-4 motion to impose a fee on paper bags, the council decided to forgo fees.
Eldridge, meanwhile, said the ability to accept out-of-town waste at the Graham Hill landfill would result in “pure revenue” because the town has already paid for the space.
The revenue is expected to make up for the 25 percent of closure costs – estimated at $5-6 million – not subsidized by a state program. If filled to capacity, waste revenue could reach nearly $2 million, but Eldridge said reaching capacity within the five-year closure period is unlikely.