Medical marijuana moratorium called ‘vauge’ and ‘unenforceable’

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer
The medical marijuana moratorium ordinance, that Bridgton voters will decide next Tuesday, is “incredibly vague and casts too broad a net,” and could, in fact, open the town up to harmful legal action, Bridgton Selectmen were told Tuesday.
Hillary Lister, director of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, drove from Bangor to speak to the board during the public participation portion of the meeting. She said the language of the ordinance is seriously flawed, by virtue of including “sites of marijuana cultivation” as well as commercial dispensaries as prohibited activities during the moratorium. If passed, the moratorium would run retroactively from Sept. 9, 2014 to March 4, 2015.
Under the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Program, said Lister, a qualifying patient may grow up to six marijuana plants for their use, or designate a primary caregiver to do so. Although the state Department of Human Services keeps a database of licensed caregivers, that database is not public, and is only accessible to law enforcement in the course of an active investigation. As for patients, Lister said, Maine law does not require citizens to register their qualifying status as a medical marijuana patient with either the state or the town.
“”Our main concern is the enforceability” of the moratorium, said Lister. “There’s no way for the town to know” who is a patient or caregiver, she said, and — more to the point — on what date that person became qualified or licensed.
Earlier in the meeting, Town Manager Bob Peabody said he’d been advised by legal counsel that the moratorium would not affect patients or caregivers who were qualified or licensed prior to the Sept. 9 effective date of the moratorium.
Selectman Doug Taft, a retired Bridgton police officer, was clearly surprised by this news. “You mean to tell me there is nowhere…” to access a list of patients or caregivers, Taft asked. “I’m a little gasping for air here.”
Lister read from her three-page prepared statement. “Since patients, and caregivers who are cultivating for those patients, are not required to register with the town, and the state doesn’t maintain a patient database, it would appear effectively impossible for the town of Bridgton to know who has been legally cultivating marijuana prior to the enactment of the moratorium,” she said. “The wording of the moratorium is incredibly vague and casts too broad a net, when the problem could be more effectively addressed by a differently-worded ordinance.” She urged residents to vote “no” on the question on Nov. 4.
Selectmen became aware of the problem of including “site of marijuana cultivation” in the referendum language at their previous meeting, when it was raised by resident Cathy Pinkham. But even at that time, it was too late to change the ballot.
Lister indicated that any attempt by the town to try to enforce the moratorium as it concerns patients or caregivers would not be taken lightly by MMCM, or the Maine Civil Liberties Union.
“If the wording is not changed, the proposed ordinance risks creating new problems for the town of Bridgton by being unenforceable and leaving the town open to legal action,” she said.
Selectman Paul Hoyt didn’t think the wording was cause for concern. “I don’t see where we could possibly prove if someone started (cultivating marijuana for medical use) after Sept. 9,” said Hoyt. But he said that under the moratorium, if he were to get a physician’s letter after Sept. 9, “technically I couldn’t use it.”
Lister said a local government cannot adopt an ordinance that is more restrictive than the state law. She said after the meeting that, while other towns in Maine have enacted moratoriums, those moratoriums have applied only to commercial operations, such as dispensaries. She said Bridgton is the first town to attempt a moratorium that would apply to patients and caregivers, which legally cannot be done.
Committee scope
Earlier in the meeting, selectmen decided that if the moratorium passes, a “Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and Cultivation Ad Hoc Committee” would be formed to study the law and craft an ordinance. The board agreed that the committee would be comprised of between five and seven people, with representation and/or advice from the Planning Board and Comprehensive Plan Committee. They said anyone interested in serving could pick up an application at the municipal complex, and selectmen will choose the committee members in executive session. Peabody was directed to draw up the committee’s charge.
Resident Ray Turner asked the board if the committee members would be drug-tested. There was some laughter at the comment, but when resident and attorney Gregory Braun referred to it, Turner said, “That wasn’t a joke.”
As Braun approached the mic, Selectman Doug Taft added, “I think it’s an interesting question.”
Braun appeared nonplussed, but said he wanted to introduce himself as a lawyer who has worked extensively on representing the interests of patients and caregivers under the Medical Marijuana Program.

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