Marijuana moratorium seems rushed to some

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The speed at which voters are being asked to enact a medical marijuana moratorium in Bridgton has some residents wondering — why the rush?

The six-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation sites was only proposed one month earlier, on Sept. 7. Tuesday’s public hearing was the only chance residents were given to speak publicly or ask questions before the referendum on the moratorium takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Resident Catherine Pinkham said patients who use medical marijuana have rights under Maine’s Medical Marijuana Law, and right now they are scared and confused about what impact the moratorium will have on their ability to grow marijuana plants for their own use.

“You might want to consider what’s already going on in the town,” she said, referring to residents and caregivers already growing plants. Pinkham suggested a moratorium might cause “mass confusion” among those unfamiliar with the state’s medical marijuana laws.

For example, she said, the language in the moratorium, which was drawn up by the town’s attorney, applies to “dispensaries,” yet under current law the eight dispensaries have already been named. “There can be no dispensaries in Bridgton,” she said.

Planning Board Chairman, Steve Collins, agreed wholeheartedly with Pinkham’s belief that the town and its residents need to be educated on the medical marijuana laws. That is precisely the reason why a moratorium is needed, so that the issue can be studied, he said.

“There is widespread ignorance” in town about the law, said Collins. “We have nothing in place now to guide us,” should an application come before the board seeking a location to cultivate marijuana legally for use by approved patients.

“I don’t want to leave the planning board in the business of doing a whole lot of legislating” on an issue it knows virtually nothing about, he added. “The planning board is typically pretty busy, and it should not be legislating on the fly.”

Resident Robert Howe also said the town needs to educate itself about the law, but also needed more information now, to know whether a moratorium was needed or not. “So, there’s going to be no public education?” he asked. “This issue is so important,” he said, that input is needed from hospital staff as well as others in the community. “Most people don’t have a clue.”

Selectmen acknowledged they were not entirely sure how the moratorium might affect those who are currently caregivers or patients, but emphasized that the moratorium will allow the town to study the issue in depth.

Planning Board Alternate Phyllis Roth said the whole purpose of the moratorium is to give both boards time to study the issue. “All we’re asking is to figure out how does Bridgton want to handle this? We’re not Biddeford, we’re not Auburn. Let us figure this out and do it our way.”

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