FAIRFIELD — The Town Council has opened the door to future retail marijuana businesses in Fairfield, but not without opposition from residents.

Councilors voted 4-1 Wednesday to adopt an amendment to Fairfield’s land use ordinance that would allow and set local regulations for retail marijuana businesses in the town’s village, commercial, industrial and rural zones. Under the approved language, retail marijuana businesses would not be allowed in all other town zones.

“Without this, the dog has no bite,” said Council Chairman Michael Taylor, who voted in favor of the new ordinance language. “We have no control over things without this ordinance being in place. For those that think marijuana is not in this town, that it’s going to promote people to start using it, I believe that they’re greatly mistaken. Those that want to use it are already using it.”

The ordinance change will allow retail marijuana stores, cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities to open in those land-use districts and would require any such establishments to obtain permits and licensing from the Planning Board, the council and the state. The ordinance language contains a prohibition on any such facility being established in town until the state finalizes retail marijuana licensing and regulation.

“We can shut these places down if they violate this ordinance, so it gives us an opportunity to control things,” Taylor added.

The other three “yes” votes were Councilors Beverly Busque, Courtney Chandler and Aaron Rowden. Vice Chairman John Picchiotti was the lone “no” vote, earning him some praise from members of the packed audience.

Several residents expressed concerns related to existing medical marijuana facilities in town and the prospect of expanding on medical facilities to allow retail. Those concerns included the effect on their children, the potential for distracted or impaired driving, and the smell.

Resident Shelley Rudnicki, who is chairwoman of the School Administrative District 49 school board, did not address the council Wednesday night but said after the vote that allowing retail marijuana in town will affect the schools and suggested that councilors’ “minds were made up before they listened to anybody.”

Rudnicki, who owns a used-car dealership in town, did speak before the council at its Sept. 13 meeting and said the smell of an existing medical marijuana facility nearby has affected her business.

“They open a car and that’s what they are smelling,” she said about potential customers earlier in September.

The language passed Wednesday night includes a section on odor control that requires a retail marijuana facility applicant to submit “a detailed report on the effective mitigation of any marijuana odors of the proposed operation.”

Rudnicki and Rowden are running against each other to represent Fairfield, Mercer and Smithfield in the Maine House of Representatives. They are vying to replace Picchiotti, who serves in the District 108 seat along with serving as council vice chairman. Rudnicki beat Busque in the Republican primary for the seat.

“I’m glad that we’ve heard from so many people,” Rowden said before explaining why he would support the retail marijuana ordinance language Wednesday night. “While it is tempting to try and put this genie back in the bottle, … a single municipality cannot do that. That would be up to the people of Maine. I think that we need to use the tools that we have available to us to regulate this, before we have a very serious problem of an unregulated industry on our hands.”

In July, the Legislature overrode a veto of Gov. Paul LePage and enacted L.D. 1719, “An Act to Implement a Regulatory Structure for Adult Use Marijuana.” Under that law, municipalities have the option of allowing retail marijuana establishments but are not required to do so.

Maine voters narrowly passed the Marijuana Legalization Act by referendum in November 2016. It took the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation multiple attempts to develop the regulatory structure.

Sen. Scott Cyrway, who is running for re-election in his District 16 seat representing several municipalities including Fairfield, addressed the council at its previous meeting to oppose the marijuana ordinance change. A retired law enforcement officer, Cyrway said earlier this month he has “fought this, well, since I became a DARE officer.”

“I believe we will become, in a sense, an accomplice in an illegal drug dealing operation,” Cyrway said Sept. 13, noting that marijuana continues to be illegal at the federal level.

“Do we want to make town government a responsible party in condoning marijuana use?” Cyrway added earlier this month.

Fairfield’s retail marijuana ordinance includes limitations on the proximity retail marijuana establishments can have to certain other locations. Any future retail marijuana establishments must be 500 feet from any existing public or private school, public library, park or playground designated as a drug free zone, halfway house, drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility, house of worship or other retail marijuana store facility.

Several people spoke in favor of Fairfield’s retail marijuana language Wednesday night including Paul McCarrier, the president of marijuana advocacy group Legalize Maine.

“I think that the council did a lot to actually protect the citizens of Fairfield,” McCarrier said after the vote.

Lawyer and lobbyist Joshua Tardy spoke on behalf of his client, Mark Crockett, who Tardy identified as someone in the medical marijuana business who “has an interest here in seeing Fairfield become a proactive leader in controlling, to the extent that you can control this now-legalized product.”

Tardy called the town’s retail marijuana language a “thoughtfully laid out ordinance that takes into account various public interests.”

The council also approved a fee schedule Wednesday night for any retail marijuana businesses in town, which would impose annual licensing fees on retail marijuana-related businesses. Under that schedule, retail store facilities, manufacturing facilities, and testing facilities would pay $1,500 in fees. Cultivation facilities would have a sliding fee schedule of $1,500 to $4,500.

In a February memo to the council, police Chief Thomas Gould addressed the potential effect of marijuana legalization and retail establishments on the Police Department.

“How legalized marijuana will affect police operations is anyone’s guess at this point. My thoughts on policing the establishments do not differ from policing a liquor-serving business,” Gould said at the time, adding that “a retail establishment in Fairfield will be treated as any other business. We will respond to complaints or requests for police presence if needed.”

Matt Junker — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @mattjunker

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