For a small town trying to establish its place in Maine, recreational marijuana seems like the wrong way to go for some, but to others it’s a way to make money.
Charles Schaefer, a resident of Unity for 30 years, agrees with the former group so he proposed an ordinance that would ban recreational marijuana establishments in his town.
In the ordinance, establishments are defined as stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities and social clubs. It’s similar to the ban enacted by Oakland in December, which is what Schaefer said he used as a template.
Schaefer, along with a group of people who feel the same way, worked on the ordinance and brought the proposal to the Board of Selectmen in December, he said.
On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., the town will hold a public hearing on the issue at the Unity Community Center. Residents will vote on the ordinance at the annual Town Meeting.
In Unity, the majority of voters did not approve Question 1, which passed statewide by a small margin and made it legal for adults 21 or older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for recreational use. It also legalized recreational marijuana establishments.
According to Schaefer, the measure was defeated by 71 votes in Unity and 759 in Waldo County.
Selectman Emily Newell said the board hasn’t made a recommendation on the ordinance yet because it wants to hear from residents first. The board agreed to put it on the town warrant because they knew the supporters would petition to add it on if they said no, she said.
Newell was surprised to see how strict the language of the ordinance was, she said.
“I’d personally rather see this be somewhere in the middle,” she said. “I don’t see the point of banning testing facilities and wholesale growing facilities and manufacturing facilities. Those can be regulated to have very little to no impact on people.”
Newell said she thinks the ban will end up “in the middle.”
“There is a lot of support for recreational marijuana in this town,” she said.
Newell is also concerned about the legal implications for towns that ban these establishments. “Our attorney has warned us that the law doesn’t explicitly say that you can ban any of this stuff,” she said. “I just don’t want to be that first town to have to defend ourselves (from a lawsuit).”
Those who proposed the ban, however, don’t see any need for recreational marijuana businesses in town.
While Schaefer said he doesn’t have anything against personal recreational use of marijuana, he said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to be selling marijuana and having marijuana social clubs in a town.”
“There are only six towns (of 26) in Waldo County that voted for it,” he added. “That just sets the stage for the kind of environment we’re in.”
Richard Booth, one of the people who helped Schaefer with the ban, said he is “against the legalization, period.”
“Recently Unity was identified by a Downeast magazine publication as being one of the best places in Maine to live,” Booth said. “I don’t think that having retail marijuana facilities in Unity would help that effort. I think that would harm it.”
However, Joe Saltalamachia, a member of the economic development committee, said he thinks those businesses would be “a fantastic source of revenue for the town.”
While Saltalamachia said he is against social clubs in Unity because it isn’t a pedestrian friendly town and he wouldn’t want to encourage impaired driving, he thinks the ordinance is being “too restrictive” by banning other businesses related to the recreational marijuana industry.
“We’re basically saying we don’t want business just because it’s marijuana business,” he said.
Saltalamachia sees a potential opportunity to place a municipal tax on the businesses, as well as an opportunity to draw businesses to Unity instead of neighboring towns that may not enact a ban.
“If Unity says no, what’s stopping Albion or Troy or Thorndike?” he said. “It’s going to be on our doorstep, except we’re not going to be getting the tax revenue.”
Saltalamachia has been to Colorado, he said, and seen “the good, the bad and the ugly,” and he is optimistic that Unity could regulate the businesses to make sure they’re “high quality.”
“My goal would be to have the most professional shop in the state of Maine,” he said.
Jean Bourg opposes the ordinance for similar reasons, she said.
“The ordinance makes no sense from an economic development perspective. Marijuana is an up and coming industry for farmers and processors. It’s a jobs creator and tax revenue generator,” she said in an email.
Bourg also points out that Unity’s ordinance requires businesses to stay in the downtown area, which would make it easier for officials to keep an eye on them. She also said that forbidding things like this “haven’t worked in the past.”
“This could be a good thing. The more other towns ban it, the more Unity succeeds,” Bourg said in an interview. “We need the business in town, and I don’t find it objectionable at all. You know, it’s a new era.”
Clem Blakely, who is also on the economic development committee, echoed what Bourg said, saying that people shouldn’t “overreact” with marijuana as some towns did with alcohol.
But Ted Swanson, who’s lived in Unity for about 46 years, says there’s “enough vices in the world” without marijuana.
“I’ve got a granddaughter, and I don’t think any of this stuff should filter down to her,” Swanson said. He also worries about people driving while impaired and what effects it could have on people’s health, he said.
Swanson said he used to smoke cigarettes but is glad he quit.
“If you inhale it into your lungs like those that do smoke marijuana … it must do some damage to you,” he said.
Swanson also doubts whether the town will see any of the promised tax revenue, he said.
“A lot of people are thinking that the dollar signs are in their favor, and oh, it’s gonna help our town, but I don’t know,” he said. ” It’d be a long time before you saw anything helpful.”
Mostly, Swanson doesn’t think this is what Unity should be known for.
“I don’t want people to come to my town as a destination because I have marijuana,” he said.
Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239