AUGUSTA — City officials plan to consider a temporary ban on recreational marijuana businesses to give themselves time to plan for the potential effects of a recently approved statewide ballot question.

While the new state law does give municipalities the right to restrict or even permanently ban retail marijuana businesses within their borders, that isn’t necessarily what Augusta officials wish to do. Some city councilors said recently there may be economic development opportunity for Augusta in allowing legitimate existing businesses to sell marijuana.

“I could envision allowing marijuana to be served in existing businesses, like restaurants, where food is served too,” Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said. “What I wouldn’t want to see is, like, someone opening up a fly-by-night place selling loose joints. I think that would contribute to some of the problems we’re seeing. But if we can elevate it to a level where someone is required to have an established business, someplace where something else is going on in that business, I think that if it’s done right, it could set us apart from some other communities and could bring some revenue here, which we badly need.”

She said a moratorium is important because it would give officials time to discuss and think about the issue.

City Manager William Bridgeo said he asked Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, to prepare a draft recreational marijuana ordinance for councilors to consider adopting. He did so in response to the Nov. 8 passage of a citizen initiative that would legalize the use and possession of recreational marijuana by adults who are at least 21, and that also, eventually, would allow the creation of retail marijuana stores and retail marijuana social clubs where it could be bought and used on site. People 21 or older will be able to grow, purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

A recount of that vote result has been requested, which Langsdorf speculated could delay legalization until sometime in January. The marijuana question passed by more than 4,000 votes, and Langsdorf said his law firm, Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios LLP, believes there is “an extremely low chance of that being flipped over.”

Langsdorf said he doesn’t see the situation as an immediate crisis. That’s because no one will be allowed to sell marijuana in Maine, other than medical marijuana, which is not affected by the law change, until the Legislature has a chance to work on the legislation, which could take up to a year.

“There are only very limited things that are happening when this law goes into effect,” Langsdorf told city councilors last week. “The only things that are going to be legal immediately will be possession and grow your own. So there is not going to be any type of retail operation allowed at all, until there has been a process of licensing and so forth. So this is going to take a while. I think it is a good idea to do a moratorium, but I don’t think people should be alarmed — or, for that matter, ecstatic — that this is going to be happening, exactly, right away.”

Bridgeo said the city considering a moratorium shouldn’t “suggest there are any biases one way or the other on the issue. It’s only to take an opportunity to take some time, before somebody puts in an application in a grandfathered fashion, to study how our zoning ordinance might address the issues that will come with this new commercial activity.”

Bridgeo said most larger communities he knows of in Maine are doing likewise.

In other central Maine municipalities, city councilors in Gardiner also are considering adopting a moratorium banning retail marijuana shops and social clubs, and the selectmen in Skowhegan recently directed the town manager to ask the Planning Board to come up with an ordinance banning retail marijuana establishments there.

Langsdorf said his firm is working on marijuana moratorium language that could be used in Augusta, Brunswick and Windham.

Augusta officials could consider the proposal as soon as Thursday or delay discussion until their informational meeting the following week, Bridgeo said.

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander said the issue of federal enforcement remains hanging over marijuana, the possession of which is still illegal under federal law.

Langsdorf said a law was passed in Congress that said no federal money may be spent enforcing federal marijuana laws in states where it has been legalized. He said the effect of the election of Donald Trump as president on states’ legalization of marijuana is unclear.

“There is no way of knowing which campaign promises were true or not true, by the president-elect, but he did say this was something he did not want to interfere with,” Langsdorf said. “Whether he sticks with that, who knows?”

At-large Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau said he doesn’t think it was a good idea to legalize marijuana, but the voters voted for it, so he is not in favor of a moratorium against it.

Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said the city’s Planning Board should start working on proposed local regulations as soon as possible.

Bridgeo said if councilors enact a moratorium, it could be retroactive to Nov. 8, the date of the referendum.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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