Linda Russo talks while knitting at the Maine Alpaca Barn on Thursday. Kennebec Journal photo by Sam Shepherd

WHITEFIELD — When Town Meeting takes place in March, Whitefield residents will likely decide whether adult-use marijuana establishments would fit in their town.

A pair of town residents Thursday offered differing opinions on the matter: One said marijuana is likely no different than tobacco or alcohol, and the other said it could create a safety hazard on the road.

On Jan. 14, the select board discussed putting the question on the warrant for Town Meeting, scheduled for March 20-21.

A perceived split has been evident in Whitefield since the 2016 elections, when voters rejected Question 1, the Act to Legalize Marijuana, by a 664-758 vote. That opinion, however, has evidence of change, but with a smaller sample size. Selectboard Chairperson Lester Scheaffer told the Kennebec Journal in September 2019 that a survey taken after the 2017 Town Meeting found that 42 people were in favor of recreational marijuana in Whitefield, while 27 were not.

Selectman Bill McKeen said Tuesday that another survey at last year’s town meeting showed residents preferred that cultivation facilities, testing facilities and manufacturing facilities be in town rather than retail stores. He said the town’s largely rural nature and farming history could slant the population toward that opinion.

Economically, McKeen said, the town could improve its tax base with large growing and manufacturing operations, as the personal property and real estate would be taxable.

“I suppose we could grow it here,” he said. “The buildings and so forth all would be taxable and would help our tax base.”

On Wednesday, Linda Russo, owner of the Maine Alpaca Barn, said she was not in favor of adult-use marijuana in Whitefield, though she is in favor of the use of hemp and cannabidiol products. She said she would like to see more case studies from towns that have allowed it before the town committed to allowing adult-use establishments.

“That’s not something I would use,” she said, adding that she would be worried about people using marijuana while driving, which could create a public safety hazard.

Judy Maldovan feeds carrot scraps to the sheep outside of the North Whitefield Superette on Thursday. Kennebec Journal photo by Sam Shepherd

Judy Maldovan told the Kennebec Journal that she saw the benefits of medical marijuana, but was a little more skeptical of adult-use. Ultimately, she said, marijuana may be just as harmful as other substances that are readily available at stores.

“I’d have to do a little more research,” Maldovan said. “I suppose it’s no worse than buying liquor or cigarettes.”

Selectwoman Charlene Donahue told the Kennebec Journal in September 2019 that the town’s opinion on marijuana depends on “who comes to the voting booth.”

“There’s a lot of people who are far more traditional,” she said, earlier saying that some residents are “free-spirited.” “It’s the dichotomy of who lives in Whitefield; that’s why I don’t know.”

Sheaffer said in September 2019 that he was concerned about recreational marijuana in Whitefield, as the town could face penalties if the federal government cracked down on Maine’s state law.

McKeen said town officials have not worked on any potential ordinances and zoning for marijuana establishments but would do so if voters OK’d the question in March. McKeen said officials from Damariscotta have been in contact with the town and said they would be willing to help Whitefield officials craft rules.

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