Central Maine municipalities have spent the bulk of 2018 mulling over adult-use marijuana ordinances in anticipation of legislative action in the next session.

Towns have enacted moratoriums, both to bar adult-use stores or buy time to craft ordinances, before state rule-making is finalized. On Thursday, the 129th Legislature will convene for its first session and probably will approve a set of adult-use marijuana rules.

Back in 2016, voters narrowly approved a citizen’s initiative that legalized recreational marijuana. Since then, the Legislature has passed a number of bills, most surviving Gov. Paul LePage vetoes, to set the framework for rule-writing consultants moving forward.

While adult-use marijuana rule-making is on the Legislature’s radar, local state senators and representatives did not have a grasp of where the issue falls in the Legislature’s timeline.

Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, said his party has not discussed where adult-use marijuana falls in their pecking order, but he said “there will be lots of conversations in the Legislature … about the way to best move forward.”

He said that municipalities should establish ordinances that work best for them.

“If Hallowell has determined that (this is the best way), that’s the best way to handle it,” he said.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, said she did not know what importance the issue will have compared to others. When asked if she thought Hallowell was doing the right thing in laying out its framework ahead of the state, she said she would defer to municipal leaders.

“Each community in my district is different, and I respect their right to determine what works best in their area as long as they are in compliance with state law,” she said.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, declined to comment on where rule-making would fall on a list of his priorities.

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Rep. Don Marean, R-Hollis, were unavailable for comment

Marean is part of a 15-member panel of legislators, lobbyists and lawyers that will advise state lawmakers on marijuana.

The Portland Press Herald reported that California-based consulting firm BOTEC Analysis will craft the adult-use marijuana regulations after being awarded the contract based on a $199,900 bid earlier this month. BOTEC is expected to finish writing the rules by the end of April. Some of the rules will require lawmakers’ approval. BOTEC has helped Washington, New York, Florida and Canada in developing adult-use and medical marijuana policy.

As it stands, Maine municipalities have to opt in to allowing adult-use marijuana establishments. If a town were to take no action on adult-use establishments, they would be barred. That change from the usual opt-out policy came in May. Two months later, the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate overrode a Gov. Paul LePage veto to reform medical marijuana policies to include the same opt-in clause.

“There is going to be a single set of rules if someone wants to set up a marijuana store,” Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said in June during a Senate session.

But some towns didn’t wait for a state framework.

Paris was one of the first to finish an ordinance in June, and Fairfield finished its ordinance up in September. Hallowell finished its rule-making in November and handed out new licenses in early December, two through a lottery.

Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy said the city designed its ordinances to defer to the state’s rule-making as much as possible. For example, marijuana businesses applications do not discern between adult-use and medical marijuana establishments. The type of establishment would be dictated strictly by the applicant’s state license type.

The city also limited adult-use and medical marijuana retail stores were limited to two in the downtown, while other uses were allowed in other districts. Earlier this month, a lottery was held to hand out those licenses.

Some applicants applied for an adult-use business license in Hallowell but were disqualified because they failed to produce a valid state license to sell marijuana. Fairfield’s ordinance allows for adult-use proprietors to get conditional approval for a business, pending the applicant receiving a state license.

This month in Whitefield, selectman floated the idea of asking a yes-or-no question to gauge interest on adult-use marijuana establishments at their March town meeting, despite the initiative. The question would inform any ordinance-making in the future. Whitefield voters rejected by 94 votes the 2016 initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.

A similar approach was taken in Dresden. Town Administrative Assistant Michael Henderson said voters approved a question at the 2018 Town Meeting that is informing a committee’s work on an ordinance allowing adult-use marijuana establishments. Henderson said the committee has met, but no proposals have been presented to the Selectboard.

Gardiner and Augusta both enacted moratoriums; Manchester is working on ordinances. Farther south, South Portland aligned zoning rules for adult-use and medical marijuana earlier this month. Richmond also is working on ordinances.

Kennebec County municipalities largely opposed recreational marijuana being legalized in 2016, when Question 1 passed in only two of the county’s municipalities: Hallowell and Waterville. The latter has a moratorium on the sale of adult-use marijuana at retail establishments until Jan. 18. Councilors voted last year to prohibit adult-use retail sales in the business district.

According to City Manager Mike Roy, the city’s Marijuana Study Advisory Committee will recommend a three-month extension on the moratorium to allow more research to be done.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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