Cumberland planners to weigh retail marijuana sales ban

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously sent ordinance language for a proposed prohibition on retail sales of marijuana to the Planning Board.

The panel also set a public hearing date of May 8 to consider extending Cumberland’s moratorium on retail marijuana sales another six months.

The marijuana moratorium followed the narrow passage last November of a statewide referendum to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product.

The question failed by 2 percent in Cumberland, 2,788 to 2,679.

Cumberland cannot prohibit the use of marijuana; only the sale, as permitted by the state. Medical marijuana dispensaries are already allowed in Cumberland’s Office Commercial North zone on U.S. Route 1, although there are none there.

During a public hearing, Brett Webber of Foreside Road – who spent 10 years in the wholesale wine business and was a retailer in Massachusetts for 23 years – noted the revenue-generating potential retail marijuana sales could have in both Cumberland and Maine, as it has in Colorado.

“The world is changing,” he said, noting the re-legalization of alcohol 84 years ago, a time when Maine had just two craft breweries, compared with more than 90 now.

“Surely they’re generating tax revenue and have become a tourist destination,” Webber said, noting that proper enforcement is key in the matter.

Town Manager Bill Shane pointed out that most of the licensing is done through the state, but municipalities would receive much of the revenues directly.

“It’s very similar to revenue sharing,” he said. “We were supposed to get 100 percent of that; we’re down to 40 percent of that now, which is almost $700,000 or $800,000 that has been taken away by the Legislature over time.”

Fewer than about 600 acres in town allow commercial operations, Shane added.

Bob Knupp of Eagles Way, a former assistant district attorney, spoke to the problems that can result from drug abuse. He said he remains puzzled about Maine’s decision to put legalization of marijuana on last November’s ballot, saying, “I really don’t believe that you can override federal law.”

While the sale of alcohol has strong restrictions and liabilities against dispensers, Knupp asked, “What do you have with respect to someone who is dispensing marijuana? So far, as I understand it, nothing. … It’s a risky business, and you don’t have the ability to protect the citizenry from the person that uses too much marijuana in a retail establishment or in a social club.”

More time is needed to “develop those serious, serious, responsible answers to the challenge of how do you regulate marijuana.”

Salt shed, sand pile

In other business, councilors agreed that removing a salt shed and sand pile off the Public Works site should wait a year.

Although town staff had sought to move a covered salt shed and winter sand pile from the Public Works site off Drowne Road to a nearby town-owned parcel, Shane recommended Monday that the work postponed until a more detailed plan for the latter site – which could be the new Public Works location in years to come – be ready for presentation to the Planning Board.

“I think we should take a small time out on this and do it as one project. If this is the location we’re going to go, then let’s permit the whole project,” Shane said, referring to environmental permitting and upgrading the entrance road from Tuttle Road to proper standards.

With a master plan ready, possibly by year’s end, the town could receive input from the community, particularly impacted neighbors who could weigh in on buffering plans. The original phased plan was more cost effective, but “left too many neighbors and abutters out of the process,” Shane said in an email Tuesday.

The town was required to move the salt shed as part of the demolition landfill closure Public Works, Shane said. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection gave the town until this year; the project is due to begin in July.

The Village Green Revitalization Master Plan – through which the Doane property has been developed as a residential subdivision, and the Drowne Road school converted to senior housing – has also called for the Public Works and school bus facilities on the road to be moved.

“For the past five years we’ve been pretty seriously looking for different spots (to relocate),” Town Manager Bill Shane said in an interview earlier this month, noting that 1o sites had been considered, but public sewer capacity was often an issue.

The 10.6-acre property to the south of the Town Forest that the town purchased from the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturer’s Association presented a strong option, since it would retain the garage’s location in the center of town, Shane noted.

The town’s purchase of the NELMA parcel requires a landscaped berm be planted to the east, parallel to Tuttle Road. Two homes, about 400 and 1,000 feet from the berm, respectively, would be impacted by the development, Shane said.

Although a decision to move the garage is three to seven years from now, the town in the meantime is looking to move the sand pile and salt shed.

But instead of moving them elsewhere onsite, and then having to move it a second time once Public Works is relocated, the town had looked to move them to the NELMA parcel this summer, in advance of the Public Works move.

Shane on Monday expressed a changed opinion to the council, though, saying the salt shed could be temporarily moved 200 feet north on its current site for one more year, while the sand pile could remain in place during that time, allowing time for permitting and more time to work with abutters about screening and landscaping.

The project could go before the Planning Board this December or the following month, Shane said.

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

This image shows the potential full buildout of a new Cumberland Public Works facility, to the west of Tuttle Road and south of the Town Forest. The matter could go before the Planning Board in December, or January 2018.

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.