Litchfield voters approved a 180-day moratorium on the establishment of any recreational marijuana businesses Wednesday night at a special town meeting, but a few residents complained that local officials did not advertise the meeting adequately and almost held a vote on the moratorium last week without giving public notice.

The marijuana law that Maine voters passed in November already includes a nine-month delay to allow state lawmakers time to create regulations for the sale of the drug, and last week Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a three-month extension of that moratorium.

But members of the Litchfield Planning Board proposed the local moratorium to ensure they’ll have time to draft appropriate zoning regulations, particularly given some of the uncertainty about when the state rules will be complete, said Paul Hempstead, chairman of the Planning Board, at the Wednesday meeting.

Attendees at the town meeting discussed the merits and drawbacks of the proposed moratorium for about 45 minutes before passing it in a 21-16 vote.

In November, Litchfield narrowly voted against — in a 1,005-1,053 vote — the citizen referendum that legalized the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by Maine adults and eventually will authorize the sale of recreational marijuana.

Some attendees at the Wednesday night meeting suggested the moratorium was unnecessary, particularly given the statewide moratorium already in effect. They also expressed concern about a clause in the moratorium that seemed to suggest it would ban the sale of rolling papers at local stores. Like those who smoke marijuana, many tobacco smokers make their own cigarettes with rolling papers.

“Why go through all this foolishness?” resident Elton Danforth said. “I’m seeing something in here where you can’t buy rolling papers. Am I going to need to leave town to buy my rolling papers?”

But officials told Danforth that the language banning the sale of those products would not apply to existing businesses.

According to Hempstead, the moratorium would ensure that anyone eventually wanting to start a recreational marijuana business in Litchfield would receive equal treatment by the Planning Board. He said that he wasn’t sure whether the statewide moratorium would apply to the marijuana growing facilities — as opposed to retail facilities and social clubs — that are allowed by the new law.

“I’d like to try to make sure that when the (statewide) moratorium is up in one year, that there isn’t some big company from out of state that’s come in, that’s already given us an application for a permit that may start to trigger timetables,” Hempstead said. “If somebody gives us an application, it starts a timetable (in which) we’re supposed to act on it in a certain amount of time. I don’t know how the state moratorium affects that. I’m more comfortable with our own version of it. If there are people who want to get growing barns, that puts everyone on the same starting point.”

Many other Maine towns and cities have considered or already have passed their own marijuana moratoriums. Litchfield Town Manager Trudy Lamoreau said she obtained the language for the one that was approved Wednesday from the Maine Municipal Association.

Besides the concerns that some meeting attendees raised about the merits of the moratorium, they also questioned Lamoreau and Mark Russell, chairman of the selectmen, about why the meeting was not advertised widely ahead of time.

Lamoreau told them that this week’s meeting was advertised on printed notices that were posted around town and on the town website, but she added that the town website crashed Wednesday. It was still down on Thursday. She also said that the meeting was advertised in this month’s issue of the community newsletter the Sodalite, but several attendees on Wednesday said it was not.

“We must have missed the Sodalite deadline,” Russell said.

Residents also questioned Russell about a selectmen’s meeting last week in which a vote on the marijuana moratorium originally had been scheduled to take place.

One man, who did not identify himself, asked Russell what would prevent selectmen from holding any “unofficial meetings” from happening in the future; but Russell responded, “I’m not sure I understand what you’re talking about.”

After the meeting, though, Russell said that selectmen originally had scheduled the vote on the marijuana moratorium for last week, but that he called off the vote after realizing it had not been advertised publicly, as is required by law. He then rescheduled it for this week.

“Originally this was scheduled for the second selectmen’s meeting in January,” Lamoreau said. “But I was sick for a week, unfortunately. The warrant didn’t get posted, so it wasn’t a secret meeting. It wasn’t a hidden meeting. Unfortunately, I got sick and it didn’t get done. I am the acting clerk. I take full responsibility for that.”

But one resident wasn’t satisfied with that explanation.

“They should have stepped up and did it for (Lamoreau),” said Steven Lemieux, who attended last week’s meeting and spoke to Russell about the lack of public notice. “They had two weeks. That’s not a reason or an excuse, as (Russell) should have taken leadership and said we need to post this by law.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.