AUGUSTA — The City Council on Thursday narrowly approved a six-month moratorium on the establishment of any recreational marijuana stores and social clubs within city limits, a precautionary reaction to a citizen referendum that Maine voters appeared to approve during the Nov. 8 election.

In Augusta, supporters of the moratorium, including City Manager William Bridgeo, argued it would give the city time to consider and prepare for the effects of Question 1, a citizen initiative legalizing the use and possession of recreational marijuana by adults who are at least 21.

Bridgeo said the moratorium takes effect immediately.

The new state law also eventually would allow the creation of retail marijuana stores and social clubs where the substance could be bought and used on site, among other provisions.

State lawmakers are now responsible for creating recreational marijuana rules, a process Bridgeo said could take more than six months.

“This is not to indicate a bias towards or against what was approved,” Bridgeo said of the moratorium. “It’s to sort out (the local rules) in a nonrushed, unpressurized fashion,

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

On Thursday, one opponent of the temporary ban on the development of recreational marijuana businesses, At-large Councilor Dale McCormick, said it did not reflect the will of voters who approved the referendum on Nov. 8.

“The voters voted, and we should be a responsive city, and moratoriums don’t say ‘responsive’ to me,” McCormick said before the vote.

Statewide, Question 1 appeared to pass with a margin of just over 4,000 votes; but opponents of the measure requested a recount — a lengthy process now in its second week.

In Augusta, however, just over half of voters who participated in the Nov. 1 election opposed Question 1, according to results posted on the secretary of state’s website. It was opposed by 4,740 local voters and supported by 4,194.

At the Thursday night council meeting, the moratorium on recreational marijuana stores and social clubs in the city was approved in a 4-3 vote — a close outcome that included a seventh, tie-breaking vote from Mayor David Rollins.

Along with Rollins, councilors Darek Grant, Patrick Paradis and Cecil Munson supported the moratorium. It was opposed by councilors Linda Conti, Jeffrey Bilodeau and Dale McCormick.

Absent from the meeting were councilors Anna Blodgett and Marci Alexander.

In late November, Bridgeo said he asked Stephen Langsdorf, the city’s attorney, to prepare a draft recreational marijuana ordinance for councilors to consider adopting, given the election outcome.

At the time, several councilors expressed interest in a moratorium.

Langsdorf speculated the recount could delay legalization until sometime in January, but given the referendum’s margin of victory, he said his law firm, Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios LLP, believes there is “an extremely low chance of that being flipped over.”

Since the election, several other central Maine communities have considered moratoriums on marijuana establishments. They include Hallowell, Gardiner, Winslow, Clinton and Madison.

In late November, Farmington approved a six-month moratorium on retail sales of marijuana and social clubs where pot can be consumed.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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