AUGUSTA — City councilors had a sharply divided reaction Thursday to a proposal to enact a local six-month moratorium banning the sale of recreational marijuana, with some councilors saying the city and the state already have had more than a year to come up with regulations but failed to do so.

Other councilors, however, said the city didn’t enact local rules because officials expected the Legislature to come up with statewide regulations and they didn’t want to waste city staff time coming up with local regulations if they weren’t needed. City Manager William Bridgeo said a legislative committee co-chaired by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, worked for months to come up with comprehensive state rules about the legalization of recreational marijuana.

But the legislation was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Councilors are expected to vote next week on a proposal to form a committee to consider creating local rules to regulate commercial recreational marijuana activities.

The statewide moratorium on recreational marijuana sales and other commercial activity is due to expire in about two months, and the city has no local laws in place to regulate the substance, which voters decided to legalize in a 2016 statewide referendum.

At-large City Councilor Corey Wilson said he would oppose a local moratorium because the state has had more than a year to come up with regulations and has not done so. He said the city, if it wants local regulations, should work quickly to enact them.

“I’m against this moratorium,” Wilson said. “I strongly would encourage us to formulate a committee and start our work on what we want as a City Council, regardless of what the state does; because I think that’s now our responsibility, where they failed.”

Bridgeo said a renewed local moratorium could give the city time to come up with local rules to regulate recreational marijuana sales before they become legal. The statewide referendum legalizing recreational marijuana could be implemented as soon as February.

Municipalities cannot prohibit possession or use of marijuana by adults, but they can regulate or prohibit its sale or other commercial activities within their borders.

Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett said the city should have moved ahead with its own regulations after passage of the referendum legalizing marijuana.

Bridgeo said if the city staff had draft local recreational marijuana regulations that later were made moot by expected state regulations, it would have been “a huge time suck.”

Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliot said he’d favor a local moratorium to allow the city time to come up with regulations. He said he’s concerned that if neither the city nor state take action, retail sales and other commercial marijuana activity could be allowed in the city once the state moratorium expires.

In December 2016 councilors approved a six-month moratorium on any recreational marijuana commercial activity. The Legislature later adopted a statewide moratorium to give the state time to craft rules and regulations beyond the provisions included in the 2016 referendum that legalized the drug.

While the Legislature might extend the state’s moratorium, Nazar said the city staff considers that unlikely to happen. He said it is thus likely that the citizen-enacted legalization referendum will take effect in February. He said in a memorandum to councilors, “That law creates many concerns that need to be addressed at the local level, and there is a very short time frame for the city to do so.”

Nazar said the city’s previous 180-day moratorium could simply be put back in place until the city has a chance to write local regulations, if officials choose to do so.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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