Durham narrowly rejects moratorium on marijuana businesses

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DURHAM — A referendum to enact a moratorium on retail marijuana sales failed by 63 votes Tuesday. 

A total of 1,105 ballots were cast; 516 voters supported the moratorium and 579 opposed it. 

The referendum called for a moratorium that would temporarily ban all retail recreational marijuana activity and the location, operation or licensing of all retail marijuana social clubs and establishments, including retail marijuana stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities. 

Furthermore, the moratorium would have prohibited individuals and organizations from engaging in any retail recreational marijuana activity. 

If approved, the moratorium would have gone into effect immediately and remained in effect for 180 days, unless extended by the Board of Selectmen or until new and revised regulations were adopted by the town. 

While in effect, no town official would have been able to accept, process, approve, or deny an application for a license or building permit related to retail marijuana activities, establishments, or social clubs. 

“I thought for sure they’d go for it,” Town Clerk Shannon Plourde said. Plourde was at the polls throughout the day and said she was impressed by the voter turnout. 

In September, Board of Selectmen Chairman Kevin Nadeau said the need to discuss and act on a moratorium came about after several inquiries from individuals considering establishing marijuana growth operations. 

BrunswickFreeport, and Yarmouth are among several surrounding towns that have enacted moratoriums to allow time to formulate local rules to govern recreational marijuana operations, which were legalized in a statewide referendum last fall.

After results were posted on Tuesday night, Nadeau said he didn’t have any expectations for the referendum vote.

“The whole purpose was to see what direction the town wanted to go and we got an indication of that tonight,” he said. “Our next step will be to do more surveys and gather more public input on which aspects of retail marijuana (the town) would support and what they wouldn’t.”

Nadeau added that the intention of the moratorium was to allow time for the town to consider permanent action, while waiting to see what happens at the state level. 

“(The town) didn’t actively campaign or advocate for the moratorium one way or another,” he said.

On Monday, Nov. 6, the Maine House of Representatives sustained Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would have regulated the retail sale of recreational marijuana statewide. The state’s current moratorium on recreational sales expires Feb. 1, 2018. 

“We thought it would be a good for the town to have protection from (retail marijuana activity),” Nadeau said. “(But) I’m not concerned that would happen given action at the state level. I think there’s plenty of time to figure things out.” 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Durham residents vote Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the Durham Community School. A proposed moratorium on retail marijuana activities failed 579-516.