Brunswick planners likely to avoid marijuana rules

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BRUNSWICK — The Planning Board Tuesday indicated it would not recommend many local restrictions on state-licensed retail marijuana shops.

In part, the opinion acknowledged that the pertinent questions of the law – where, what kind, and how many retail stores and social clubs should be allowed in Brunswick, if any – are essentially up to the Town Council.

The decision also acknowledged that Brunswick voted in favor of the statewide marijuana legalization question that narrowly passed Nov. 8, pending a recount that is expected to take a month.

The council will hold a Dec. 19 public hearing on the issue, which Councilor Kathy Wilson, who attended the Planning Board workshop, said she expected would be a “more emotional” rehashing of the Dec. 6 discussion.

Tuesday’s discussion, however, was lighthearted in tone, as board members tried to find objective measures of analysis to guide them through uncharted territory.

“Well, now what?” Vice Chairwoman Margaret Wilson said early on, alluding to the seemingly unprecedented nature of the task before them.

The board looked to existing analogues and laws to inform decisions – only to find that few existed.

Director of Planning Anna Breinich said that in the four states that have passed legalization laws, municipal laws vary widely. And unlike those other states, Maine has also legalized social clubs, where customers can consume and smoke pot on the premises.

Wilson said alcohol was the closest equivalent of “intoxicant” that was legal in Brunswick, and the town did not control the number of locations of bars and liquor stores in town.

The board considered the five kinds of retail locations specified in law: stores, social clubs, cultivation centers, manufacturing and testing facilities.

Except for social clubs, the board had few reservations about the town’s ability to successfully integrate marijuana retailers and manufacturing into the current zoning.

Wilson said the board focuses on the impact, not wares, of a store; as such, it wasn’t the board’s job to discriminate against marijuana retailers based on what they were selling, if their operation complies with the zoning ordinance.

In light of that, the board reached a consensus that the cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities would likely fall under the current zoning for farms and industry, and stores could set up shop in retail zones.

Chairman Charles Frizzle said if the board wants to control retail locations, it could require marijuana retailers to have a specific-use permit. However, the board generally agreed that the market would determine the number and locations of the stores, and the imposing restrictions would be arbitrary.

Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Hutchinson added that the five or six operations in town that legally grow medical marijuana are discreet, and suggested that indoor growing facilities and licensed home occupation operations might follow suit.

The board had more questions about the unknowns associated with social clubs – specifically, that law enforcement had yet to devise an effective way to measure levels of tetrahydrocannabinol – the active psycho chemical in marijuana, commonly referred to as THC – in the body. 

Breinich noted that her staff will meet with the Police Department and the town clerk’s staff next Monday to discuss the implications of the law, and that their conversation should yield helpful feedback on the questions surrounding enforcement and public health.

They worried about people leaving establishments while still under the influence, although the point was made several times that nothing stops residents from getting in their cars after smoking the drug at home or a friend’s house.

The board also discussed whether to impose isolation distances around certain places in town, which would prohibit pot retailers and manufacturers from establishing themselves a certain distance from a place where, for example, children congregate.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.