GARDINER — Before voting to extend Gardiner’s temporary ban on commercial marijuana enterprises, some elected officials wondered if by doing so, Gardiner would lose out on the state’s emerging marijuana market.

But not all city residents share the same sense of urgency about jumping into the uncharted world of commerce built around a substance that, until just under two-and-a-half years ago, was illegal in Maine.

“I really trust our council to do the right thing,” Kathy Paradee said. “I don’t want our city to do the wrong thing.”

Kathy Paradee at her home in Gardiner on Sunday. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Paradee, 62, said she doesn’t know what the wrong thing is, but she’s not sure anyone else does either at this point.

“This is uncharted territory,” she said Sunday, pausing for a few minutes. “It’s a new thing. We, as a state, stepped into this before there were any laws on the books. I don’t think we know what this means. I don’t think anyone knows what the right answers to some of these questions are.”

At last week’s Gardiner city council meeting, councilors were considering extending the temporary ban put in place last fall so that no pot-related business could open before officials had a chance to decide where and how such businesses could exist in city limits. The exception to that temporary ban is the two medical marijuana stores on Water Street that opened before it was put in place.

At-large Councilor Jon Ault raised several concerns, particularly since other municipalities are taking action to be a part of the cannabis market, despite the fact that state officials are still months way from finalizing their own rules, which are likely to require state licenses to open local facilities like commercial greenhouses.

“When I reflect on this moratorium, I can’t help but think that — and this is the second moratorium that we have been asked to approve — that these things were in honor of process and in being cautious, and they started out with really good intentions,” Ault said. “I am starting to worry now these moratoriums have taken a life of their own, and we may be losing sight of what we’re really after here, with moratorium after moratorium after moratorium.”

For the sake of caution, he said, he’s concerned elected officials were being too restrictive.

“We need to ask ourselves, ‘What are our peer communities doing?'” he said. “‘What are our neighbors doing?'”

As examples, Ault cited Auburn, where developers are planning to invest up to $7 million in a cannabis business park, with plans to build greenhouses for marijuana cultivation and an extraction facility. He also mentioned Waterville, where elected officials started the process of putting a marijuana ordinance in place earlier this year dictating how and where a commercial pot business could open.

“The state is seemingly nearly complete (with its rules), but I would hate to see 180 days, 200 days, 300 days blocking a developer looking at Gardiner as a potential location for a legal and reasonable marijuana facility here in the city,” he said.

Ault said he would like Thomas Fiorelli, the city’s new economic development director, to look into what other communities are doing and report back to the City Council.

At-large Councilor Tim Cusick echoed Ault’s concerns about the delay.

Gardiner has enacted several temporary bans on marijuana enterprises since the end of 2016, when voters narrowly approved a referendum on legalizing marijuana. Like many other communities, the bans were put in place to allow cities and towns to review ordinances and zoning to consider where such operations could go. While the referendum legalized adults possessing and growing limited amounts of pot, it also paved the way for commercial enterprises, like greenhouses, extraction and testing facilities and retail shops.

District 2 Councilor Terry Berry said the process of drawing up regulations has already started. It has been sent to the city’s Ordinance Review Committee to make recommendations to the City Council on where pot enterprises may be located.

Berry had served as the chairman of a committee created in the wake of the legalization vote to make recommendations about what type of commercial pot businesses the city might allow to be ready when the state completed its work.

“Has the process been aggressive enough?” Berry said. “I don’t know.”

Mayor Patricia Hart said the Ordinance Committee has not yet started its work on city cannabis regulations.

Berry noted that all the other communities working through their own regulatory processes are, like Gardiner, subject to the state’s process. An analysis will show that economic opportunity exists, but that circles around again to city policy decisions about where it may be allowed.

“If the council wants to do something,” Berry said, “we make this a priority. If you want to give a signal out there to the developers, the growers, the people who are going to make this happen, that’s where you make it — on the front line. You say we are going to make these rules and these locations. That will say to the movers and shakers in the industry that Gardiner is on forefront.”

Terry Lynn Pulley is looking forward to when cannabis products are widely available. Two people in her family have suffered traumatic brain injuries, and she thinks marijuana offers better options for easing their chronic headache pain than addictive opioids. Her concern is that cannabis products be regulated the way food products are, so consumers know exactly what they are ingesting.

Pulley, 63, who spent part of her Sunday in Gardiner’s Waterfront Park, said she has not followed the issue closely since she cast her vote to legalized pot in Maine.

“I give our communities credit for at least having that initiative,” she said. “Even though our city councilors don’t understand the best way to approach it, I think it’s good they are taking the time to address this in City Council meetings.”

“I don’t follow it that closely,” Roland Crooker, 55, said. “I’m not for it, personally. I think it’s a really bad thing.”

Crooker’s concern is the effect of marijuana use on drivers; his job takes him all over the state, and he sees bad driving everywhere.

“I am not one to tell people what to do and what not to do,” he said. “As long as it doesn’t affect me in a negative way, it doesn’t affect me. Who am I to say we shouldn’t have these places? I am sure it will generate money because there is a big enough demographic out there, but is it worth the money?”

Beth Cuprak walks her dogs Sunday near her home in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

For Beth Cuprak, marijuana is not a big issue for the average person.

“If you were in college in the ’60s, it was not a big deal,” Cuprak, 70, said on Sunday. It was readily available even when she was in high school, and it being legal now makes sense.

Joshua Collins, 28, said he voted against legalizing marijuana, and the issue doesn’t affect him or his wife.

“I would rather have everything in order before it all starts with all the zoning and make sure everything is covered,” Collins said. “That would help the later part of the process more.”

Joshua Collins walks Sunday at The Common in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

At the end of their debate Wednesday, the City Council voted to extend the moratorium. Christine Landes, Gardiner city manager, said if the ban is no longer needed, it can be canceled before it expires. The council also voted to make drafting recommendations on pot-related business a priority for the city’s Ordinance Review Committee.

 

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632
[email protected]
Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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