GARDINER — Applications are available for residents who would like to serve on a task force that is expected to make recommendations on whether any of the commercial aspects of recreational marijuana will be allowed inside Gardiner city limits and if so, whether any restrictions ought to be placed on those establishments.

The task force was given shape by the Gardiner City Council earlier this week, following several proposals and counterproposals.

The result is that the task force will have seven members — three proponents of the marijuana law, three opponents and a neutral chairman, who will cast a vote only in the event of a tie. Elected officials are requiring further that for a meeting of the task force to occur, at least two people from each side must be present in addition to the chairman.

Councilors designated one of their own, District 1 Councilor Terry Berry, to serve as chairman, over the objection of District 4 Councilor Phillip Hart.

“Whoever loses out will say the council stacked the deck, and I don’t support it for that reason,” Hart said.

Mayor Thom Harnett said the task force’s job is to make recommendations to the council, and the council will make the final decision.

Three ex-officio members also will serve — James Toman, Gardiner police chief; Barbara Skelton, the city’s code enforcement officer; and Scott Morelli, the city manager.

Morelli said in addition to the threshold question of whether to allow the businesses, the task force may also offer up other recommendations.

“If they decide to recommend social clubs be allowed,” Morelli said, “they can suggest the city place some limits on them, like not allowing them near schools. There probably will be some nuance.”

The legalization of recreational marijuana by referendum vote in November has compelled municipal officials across the state to grapple with what that will mean for their communities.

As passed Nov. 8, the law allows people 21 or older to possess and use marijuana, subject to some limits. The law also allows for a range of marijuana-related businesses, such as retail shops and social clubs, as well as cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities.

It also tasks the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry with being the state licensing authority and to adopt rules within nine months. Any retail marijuana establishment or social club will require a state license to do business.

Before any state license can be issued, applicants would have to secure local approval. Under the law, cities and towns have the authority to prohibit recreational marijuana-related businesses outright within their municipal limits, place restrictions on the number or location of those businesses, and put in place regulations for retail shops and social clubs that are at least as restrictive as the state’s. They also could require local licensing.

The measure passed by a narrow margin statewide. In Gardiner, the measure narrowly failed; the vote was 1,464 for and 1,605 against.

A requested statewide recount delayed the successful citizen initiative from becoming law by several weeks. It was halted when it became clear the outcome of the vote would not change. Now, following the proclamation verifying results being signed by Gov. Paul LePage on Dec. 31, Maine residents will be able to possess and grow pot legally starting Jan. 30.

Gardiner is just one of the communities navigating the changes that the citizen initiative has brought about. Augusta has a approved a temporary ban and Oakland has banned shops and social clubs outright.

Richmond, Gardiner’s neighbor to the south, has scheduled a special town meeting for 6 p.m. Jan. 18 for town residents to vote on whether to enact a temporary ban on retail marijuana-related shops, social clubs, or cultivation or testing operations.

Pittston, across the Kennebec River, has scheduled a public hearing on a proposed moratorium for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and a special town meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25 to vote on whether to impose a temporary ban.

Applications for Gardiner’s recreational marijuana task force are available at Gardiner City Hall, at 6 Church St., and on the city’s website. They are due no later than noon Jan. 27.

The City Council is expected to appoint members to the task force at its Feb. 1 meeting. The task force, in turn, is expected to deliver its recommendations to the City Council by May 3.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ