Harpswell to seek opinions on marijuana strategy

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HARPSWELL — The town survey residents to see if they want to follow other communities by enacting a moratorium on marijuana retail establishments.

A narrow 51 percent of Harpswell voters supported the Nov. 8 statewide referendum that allows pot to be smoked or consumed in private homes, as well as the establishment of state-licensed marijuana retail stores, growing facilities, and social clubs.

Based on the input received, the Board of Selectmen will decide to enact a 180-day moratorium on pot retail stores, delay action until the state passes its own regulations, or amend local ordinances to restrict certain retailers permitted by the state.

The new law specifies five categories of retail establishments that the town may prohibit or regulate: stores, social clubs, cultivation facilities, testing facilities and manufacturing facilities.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane raised the question at the Dec. 15 selectmen’s meeting. She noted Harpswell has no commercial zones, and potential retailers would be able to set up anywhere in town (except shoreland protection areas) if the board refrains from local restrictions.

Selectman Ellie Multer turned the town’s attention to the implications of the law at a Dec. 1 meeting after neighboring communities passed temporary bans on sales until the state sets its rules.

She expressed concern that surrounding moratoriums might push marijuana businesses toward a “wide-open” Harpswell.

“If it’s shut off in Brunswick and Topsham for some period of time, some entity is going to look to Harpswell with its lack of restrictions, something we generally enjoy as part of the freedom of life in Harpswell,” she said.

Selectman Kevin Johnson didn’t seem as worried at the Dec. 15 meeting. “I don’t see this as being the hotbed of the marijuana business,” he said.

Eiane and Town Planner Mark Eyerman are developing a survey they hope will provide more clarity. A draft of the survey, which will be available on the town’s website, asks respondents to rate the strength of their feelings toward the town’s available options.

Any regulatory legislation must take place at the annual Town Meeting in March, unless selectmen call a special Town Meeting. Per state law, however, the board of selectmen is allowed to extend a 180-day moratorium.

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.