Freeport planners will weigh marijuana risks, rewards

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FREEPORT — Town councilors want to determine what makes sense for the town’s livelihood as they craft a recreational retail marijuana policy.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Town Council wrestled with setting guidelines for the Planning Board, which will write zoning rules governing where marijuana can be used in a social club or sold at a retail shop. 

The council also congratulated Cole Haan shoe company founder and philanthropist George Denney. He is the town’s 2016 Citizen of the Year.

As with other communities in the area, Freeport enacted an emergency moratorium against any retail pot sales or social clubs. The 180-day moratorium is in its second month.

Maine voters last November legalized recreational marijuana sales, and Freeport voters supported legalization. The state is taking a year to implement the law.

Councilors said they realize a new White House administration could hamper states’ rights to legalize recreational pot sales, because federal law continues to prohibit retail marijuana sales, pot-infused food items or social clubs.

“If we don’t have an appetite for it, we should let (the Planning Board) know so they don’t spend time on it,” Chairwoman Sarah Tracy said.

The Planning Board will consider where these sales could happen, or where people could hang out publicly to smoke pot.

No councilor spoke Tuesday night about opposing the will of Freeport voters regarding retail sales. Yet councilors also don’t want to jeopardize the town’s reputation as a tourism destination and revenue tourism produces.

“I don’t consider 57 percent equating to an overwhelming majority saying they want marijuana in town,” Councilor Scott Gleeson said of how Freeport voted.

Councilors recommended having the Planning Board weigh all options.

“There’s risk, I think, on both sides,” Gleeson said.

If the Planning Board moves forward, one possibility is having an area outside of the downtown, closer to Route 1 than in the village, for a marijuana social club.

Citizen of the Year

Denney was honored for his role in safeguarding commercial and retail development in Freeport, especially in its downtown village. 

Denney said he had no idea that he was going to receive the award at Tuesday night’s meeting. Jim Cram, Freeport Historical Society executive director, lured Denney to the meeting on the guise of speaking supportively of  local businesses.

As the good neighbor that Cram and other residents described Denney as being, Denney willingly came along.

“He helped make Freeport a great place that we all live in,” Councilor Peter Anzuini said in presenting a plaque to Denney.

“You give, you get. You get, you give. This is how it works. Mr Denney has definitely lived this rule,” Anzuini said 

He described Denney as being welcoming to many people. Denney created the upscale, handcrafted American shoe brand Cole Haan, bringing his business to Freeport and creating jobs for Mainers. 

“On a personal note, improving the look of Freeport in the ’70s is one of the reasons my wife and I moved here,” Anzuini said.

Freeport then was at a crossroads in its development, growing from a small working-class town, anchored by flagship local retailer L.L. Bean. 

Municipal employee Johanna Hanselman said Denney took care of the little details in projects he worked on. Those small details made a big difference, she said.

“Thank you for the little things that made Freeport a great town,” Hanselman said.

In other business, councilors got their first look at the town’s 2018-2022 capital improvement plan, a program that allows for purchases of significantly expensive equipment for public safety or roadwork.

Finance Director Jessica Maloy and Town Manager Peter Joseph reviewed the CIP needs from several departments. The amount proposed for fiscal 2018 is more than $1.85 million, up about $258,000 from the approximately $1.59 million the council approved for fiscal 2017.

The council will continue its review of the spending plan over the next month.

Lisa Connell can be reached at 781-3661 ext 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

George Denney thanks the Town Council Tuesday, Feb., 28, after receiving Freeport’s Citizen of the Year award.