Topsham voters to decide 3 marijuana questions

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TOPSHAM — Voters on Nov. 6 will consider three non-binding questions to guide the town on whether to allow retail marijuana sales.

If there is enough support to move forward, an ordinance governing uses could go to Town Meeting next May.

Chairman Dave Douglass noted at the Sept. 6 Board of Selectmen meeting that “if the citizens of Topsham don’t want (retail marijuana sales) from the beginning, before we even establish rules, we shouldn’t be tying up time on it.”

Voters will be asked whether they want to allow medical marijuana to be sold in a retail venue; to permit recreational-use marijuana to be sold to adults in a retail setting, and to allow marijuana to be commercially grown.

Town Meeting in May voted against a ban on retail marijuana establishments. Towns are allowed by state law to prohibit retail establishments, but not medical marijuana dispensaries.

Voters at the May 2017 Town Meeting adopted a moratorium on retail marijuana sales, which followed the narrow passage of a statewide referendum in November 2016 to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product. Topsham’s freeze has since been extended and expires Dec. 6.

Since a municipality must authorize retail sales, selectmen want resident input on whether Topsham should opt in, Town Manager Rich Roedner has said. Public hearings would likely only draw a small number of people, whereas November’s gubernatorial vote should bring many residents to the polls, he noted.

A public hearing on the matter Sept. 6 drew no comment.

“Not a soul’s here for marijuana,” Douglass observed, drawing some chuckles. “Not what I had anticipated.”

Selectmen then discussed whether to put the three questions to a referendum vote. Douglass said he viewed the November 2016 vote to be Topsham’s stance on retail marijuana sales statewide, and not necessarily within the town itself.

Fellow Selectman Roland Tufts agreed, saying, “I would like guidance on each one of these items separately, to know definitively what’s the thought of the town relative to each one of these, because they’re very distinct operations, and I think there may be different opinions based on each one of them.”

Selectman Ruth Lyons doubted many residents would notice the “non-binding” qualifier on the ballot.

Roedner said the town’s attorney suggested a separate ballot for the questions, distinguished by differently colored paper because they are non-binding. The manager had not proposed to go that route due in part to extra costs – possibly $1,000 – for the additional ballot and colored paper, he said.

Lyons supported the separate ballot. Selectman Bill Thompson did not mince words in expressing his opposition.

“If people … don’t want to read the ballot, that’s not my problem,” he said. “I’m not going to authorize to spend extra money to put it in a different color and do all this stuff. Read the damn ballot. Any other questions on how I feel about it?”

The board voted 4-1, with Thompson opposed, to send the questions to referendum – on a separate, colored ballot.

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

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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.