AUGUSTA — All adult recreational marijuana sales, processing and growing would be banned anywhere in the city in a proposal city councilors are due to discuss Thursday.

In an informal straw poll in January, five of the eight city councilors indicated they do not want to allow any sales of marijuana in Augusta other than medical marijuana.

In response, a proposal to regulate how and where medical marijuana is sold in the city doesn’t include any provisions for recreational marijuana sales. By not establishing recreational marijuana rules, the sale of marijuana in Augusta — other than medical marijuana — would remain illegal despite a state referendum passed in 2016, legalizing adult use of marijuana.

“By doing nothing — adopting no regulations at all regarding adult use marijuana — Augusta is prohibiting the uses,” Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, wrote in a memo to city councilors regarding Thursday’s upcoming meeting. “Taking no action equals prohibition.”

Advocates who have worked against marijuana prohibition say while state law does allow municipalities to ban recreational marijuana sales within their borders, doing so doesn’t mean there won’t still be people buying and selling marijuana in Augusta; they’ll just be doing it illegally.

“It’s naive to think that with this vote the City Council is stopping marijuana sales in Augusta, because, believe me, people are still going to be selling marijuana in Augusta,” said David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s good policy for adults to have a good, legal, well-regulated safe place to purchase marijuana. Adults shouldn’t have to go to a drug dealer to purchase marijuana in 2019 in Maine.”

He noted Augusta residents who want to buy marijuana legally may just go to other municipalities where recreational marijuana sales are likely to be allowed.

“Adults who would rather consume marijuana rather than alcohol, they’ll have to drive to another town, which is unfortunate,” Boyer said. “Maybe that’s Hallowell, where they’re going to allow it. And they’re going to benefit from it, because people who come there for it will do other shopping while they’re in town.”

But he agreed the city is within its rights to ban recreational marijuana sales, as the campaign to legalize adult use in Maine emphasized municipalities having local control.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind and At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien emphasized that a majority of Augusta residents, both citywide and in each ward, voted against the 2016 referendum legalizing adult use of marijuana, 4,740-4,194.

“The citizens of Augusta voted against it, as did a lot of other communities,” O’Brien said. “Moreover, it’s still illegal under federal law. And, thirdly, I don’t really think it’s good for the reputation of the city of Augusta to be known for that. There will be communities around who will, and be happy to do it. I don’t think Augusta needs to join that troop.”

Boyer said some people who voted against that referendum did so because they were opposed to the specifics of it, not necessarily opposed to any marijuana legalization. He suggested officials put the question of whether to ban all adult recreational marijuana sales in Augusta to voters in a local referendum, as some other municipalities have done.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti and At-large councilors Jennifer Day and Corey Wilson indicated they were in favor of allowing at least some adult use recreational marijuana sales in parts of the city at the Jan. 10 meeting at which councilors were polled on the issue.

Conti said that as long as marijuana sales don’t take place in residential neighborhoods, she doesn’t care if the sales are of medical or recreational marijuana. She said both should be treated the same, and banning one while allowing the other would making enforcing the rules a burden.

Under Maine law, municipalities may not ban medical marijuana caregivers from providing marijuana to authorized medical marijuana patients, Nazar said. Municipalities may, however, regulate how and where such businesses operate.

Councilors are scheduled to discuss proposed zoning changes for medical marijuana retail establishments when they meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at Augusta City Center.

Nazar said the changes were meant to address the goals councilors expressed, which include allowing medical marijuana registered caregivers to operate in the same zoning districts as other retail, industrial, medical and agricultural businesses are allowed to operate; prohibiting medical marijuana registered caregivers from operating in any capacity in residential zoning districts, with a two-year “sunset” period to allow such caregivers operating in residential zones to relocate; allowing medical marijuana registered dispensaries in the same locations as registered caregivers; creating a set of standards to address local concerns such as odor management, distance from “sensitive” uses such as churches or schools, and providing evidence from a licensed master electrician that grow areas used by caregivers or dispensaries comply with electrical codes and; creating a licensing system for caregivers and dispensaries.

Councilors also are scheduled to discuss selling a parcel of property acquires for failure to pay taxes at 1 Park St., off Bangor Street, and a proposed land use ordinance amendment to allow parking as a separate use in some zoning districts where there is a lack of parking.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]
Twitter: @kedwardskj

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