The Bath City Council approved the first passage of an ordinance that would allow recreational and medical marijuana retail facilities to open downtown. (Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record)

BATH – Bath may soon allow recreational marijuana retail shops downtown and along Route 1.

Last week, Bath city councilors gave preliminary approval to an ordinance allowing recreational stores and dispensaries in a wide swath through the center of the city along the north of the Route 1 corridor. Sales will be allowed in the retail areas on Congress Avenue eastward toward Washington Street, encompassing a large section of the city’s downtown.

Recreational and medical marijuana stores would have to be licensed by the state and city and install security measures, including 24-hour surveillance. In addition, passers-by shouldn’t be able to smell marijuana from outside the building.

The rules also set a 500-foot buffer zone around schools, licensed childcare facilities, substance abuse rehabilitation or treatment centers and halfway houses. No two retail stores can open within 300 feet of one another.

Councilor Raye Leonard was among the councilors who voted to give initial approval to the rules, but admitted she still has concerns about allowing recreational marijuana shops to open in Bath’s downtown area.

“Just because I have concerns about pot shops opening in the downtown doesn’t mean I’m opposed to it,” she said. She said she didn’t want to stop the ordinance from passing strictly because of zoning concerns.

“People want this, people voted for this, so we want to do this in the least-restrictive but most respectful way,” Leonard said.

Julie Ambrosino and Aaron Park were the two dissenting councilors.

Ambrosino said recreational marijuana stores can “change the complexion of a town.”

“There’s a reason we don’t see the sale of controlled substances smack dab in the middle of our quaint downtown,” Ambrosino said.

Ambrosino said she has no qualms about allowing recreational marijuana to be sold along Route 1. She said she’d rather limit recreational marijuana to be sold in only the C4 zone and consider expanding after that.

“I feel like we’re getting ahead of ourselves … It’s pretty generous to give them one zone in the first place,” Ambrosino said.

Bath has one medical marijuana dispensary, located at 67 Centre St., which Ambrosino said she doesn’t mind because it’s, “inconspicuous and tastefully done.”

Planning Board Director Ben Averill said there are no formal applications to open a recreational marijuana retail space in Bath.

The action comes nearly three years after the narrow passage of a statewide referendum in November 2016 to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product. Municipalities must decide whether to authorize retail sales.

Retail sales won’t be allowed in a zone bordering the area around Bath Iron Works. Planning Board Director Ben Averill said representatives from the shipyard expressed concern about potentially having recreational marijuana stores near BIW facilities.

David Hench, a spokesman for BIW, said, “Retail marijuana sales in the neighborhoods near the shipyard work against our efforts to make sure our nearly 6,000 employees are focused on their job and doing it safely. While it may be a personal choice for some, in a manufacturing environment that choice places others at risk and is counter to BIW’s Substance Abuse Policy.”

The council will hold a second and final vote on the new marijuana rules during its next meeting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 4.

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