The town of Monmouth is asking voters to pass a 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana sales so the town can continue to draft rules that would regulate the sale of the recently legalized substance and remain consistent with changes being made at the state level.

After Maine voters approved the legalization of commercial marijuana last November, the Monmouth Planning Board began drafting an ordinance that would limit where it can be sold in town and how many licenses can be issued for its sale, among other things, said David Shaw, the town’s code enforcement officer.

Officials originally were hoping to seek voter approval for that ordinance last spring or this fall, Shaw said, but they’ve decided to delay that vote until legislators have finished writing an amendment to the state law.

The local ordinance is just “a draft,” Shaw said. It “most likely will change, only because the state has changed their wording 180 degrees.”

Now the Select Board is asking voters to pass a 180-day moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana, to give the Planning Board more time to work.

That local moratorium tentatively would take effect in February, when a statewide moratorium on marijuana sales expires, Town Manager Curtis Lunt said.

Voters will consider the moratorium on the Nov. 7 ballot and are invited to a public hearing about it at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Town Office.

Despite the statewide success of the referendum question last fall, there appears to be more opposition than support for the legalization of recreational pot in the communities around Augusta. Just two municipalities in Kennebec County approved of it at the ballot box: Waterville and Hallowell.

Because of that resistance, some towns, such as Oakland, have decided to ban the sale of recreational marijuana outright. Others have passed their own moratoriums as they draft local regulations. Litchfield selectmen, for example, recently approved a 180-day extension on their moratorium.

In Monmouth, voters rejected the statewide referendum in a 1,249-1,133 vote.

“The town, like lots of them, voted no,” Lunt said. “So it’s controversial, naturally. Some people don’t want it, period, and some people say it’s harmless.”

Local officials don’t know whether residents eventually will reject any proposal to sell marijuana in town, and they plan to hold a public hearing before any referendum vote on regulations. The new ordinance could be ready for voter approval by Town Meeting next spring, Lunt said.

Despite the opposition to the ballot question last fall, officials also recognize the potential for economic development from the legal sale or processing of marijuana, according to Shaw.

“We don’t know if we’re going to allow it, period,” he said. “There’s some money to be had here, so we’re not closing our eyes here.”

Monmouth’s Planning Board has drafted an ordinance that would ban social clubs, which are establishments that allow customers to use marijuana on the premises.

The ordinance also would regulate the commercial use of marijuana, placing limits on how many licenses for sale or manufacturing can be issued — up to three — and how far any proposed facilities must be from schools, churches, homes and other noncommercial structures, according to Shaw.

Some of those restrictions came from an existing Monmouth ordinance that limits where shops selling sexually explicit materials can be located, Shaw said.

Because homes are included in those proposed restrictions, Shaw said, the overall area where a marijuana business could open is probably “pretty small.”

Officials originally were planning to seek voter approval for those rules by this fall, Shaw said, but now they need more time to adjust the local ordinance so that it’s consistent with changes being made by state lawmakers, who are trying to balance the needs for public safety, public health and tax revenue as they set up an adult-use marijuana market.

The amendment now under consideration by legislators would require towns to “opt in” to the state’s marijuana market by approving specific legislation that allows recreational marijuana to be sold in their borders.

That’s different from language in the referendum approved by voters last fall that requires towns to opt out of the adult-use market, and now the Monmouth Planning Board must adjust its ordinance to reflect that change, Shaw said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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