Falmouth sets public hearing on marijuana moratorium

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council has called a public hearing on a moratorium that would temporarily ban all recreational marijuana establishments, including social clubs.

Falmouth is one of many local communities that are either considering or have already enacted a moratorium designed to give them time to create local rules that would govern recreational marijuana operations, which were legalized in a statewide referendum this past fall.

The public hearing to discuss the moratorium is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 8.

Recreational marijuana operations approved by the referendum include retail stores featuring marijuana-laced products, grow houses, testing facilities and social clubs, where patrons could meet and smoke on site.

Falmouth’s code of ordinances doesn’t include any specific regulations that would apply to recreational marijuana operations. 

“The unregulated location and operation of retail marijuana establishments … raises legitimate and substantial questions” about their impact on the town, according to the moratorium language, which received a first reading April 12.

Such impacts include “potential criminal activity (and) increased burden on the town’s police and fire departments,” along with a possible increased burden on the town’s infrastructure, from its roads to public utilities, the moratorium added.

The moratorium is devised with the “express purpose of (allowing time to) draft amendments to the town’s ordinances to protect the public from health and safety risks including, but not limited to, the compatibility of retail marijuana establishments … with existing and permitted uses,” in town.

Under the moratorium, which is applicable for 180 days, the council has agreed to “study the town’s current ordinances to determine the land use and other regulatory implications of retail marijuana establishments … and consider what locations, local licensing requirements and conditions of approval might be appropriate.”

The council is scheduled to give final approval to the moratorium at its May 22 meeting. However, councilors already made the ban effective beginning April 12.

That step was taken in order to ensure that no recreational marijuana operations would attempt to take advantage of Falmouth’s current regulatory structure, which has no restrictions on where such facilities could locate, the hours of operation and site improvements, such as fencing or lighting, that would be required.

Councilors seem generally in favor of the moratorium. The hard part may be deciding what process to follow in terms of reviewing the types of recreational marijuana operations that could be allowed in town and where they might locate.

At last week’s meeting, Councilor Charlie McBrady suggested that the Ordinance Committee take a first whack at coming up with a recommendation for what approach the town should take in creating any new rules that would govern recreational marijuana operations.

The rest of the council agreed with that proposal. But Council Chairwoman Karen Farber also made it clear that whether the issue is turned over to a subcommittee that includes residents or assigned to a standing committee, “we need to have a conversation about” as a full board.

This item was then added to the Ordinance Committee agenda for its meeting on Wednesday.

In other action last week, the council approved new rules to require farmers markets to get a local permit.

Councilors also agreed to appropriate $175,000 in local funds to do a sewer system upgrade when the Maine Department of Transportation begins re-construction work on the intersection of Longwoods, Woods and Middle roads later this spring.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.