Naples eyes marijuana law moratorium

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Many residents are curious to know how the Maine Marijuana Legalization Act will impact their town. Some Maine towns have already put into place moratoriums until the details of the law are sorted out on the state level.

The Naples Board of Selectmen is highly likely to present a marijuana moratorium as a warrant article at the upcoming Town Meeting.

By law, a municipality can put a moratorium in place until an ordinance is crafted to address the specific law — in this case the passage of the law allowing the recreational use of marijuana. How to govern the industry end of the pot business, such as retail shops and social clubs, is what will be controlled.

According to Selectman Rich Cebra, who two weeks ago suggested the moratorium be put on the agenda for discussion, “a moratorium is not a permanent ordinance.”

Cebra indicated that he was reading from a Maine Municipal Association (MMA) newsletter.

“By law, a moratorium is subject to 180 days, and has a 180-day extensions,” he said.

“The idea is to put a moratorium in place while an ordinance is being developed,” Cebra said.

Chairman Bob Caron II said, “It could be 360 days. We have that flexibility.”

Naples resident Roger Clement weighed in on the topic.

“I would like to recommend that we do in fact adopt a moratorium for a year or two until such a time that we can develop a marijuana ordinance,” Clement said.

The moratorium would not be official until it is approved at the town meeting. That is why the Naples selectmen have elected to discuss the issue now.

“If there’s a decent enough reason to put it as a warrant article at the town meeting, then let’s talk about it,” Cebra had said earlier this month.

Likewise, the passage of a permanent ordinance governing marijuana retail shops and social smoking clubs would also require a town meeting vote. But, the crafting of such an ordinance is several months to a year away. In fact, the selectmen have not yet directed the Ordinance Review Committee to begin that work; they are still wrapping up the town’s Sign Ordinance.

Both Cebra and Caron have heard from Naples residents regarding their concerns about the legalization of pot.

At the beginning of Monday night’s meeting, Caron said, “Since this came out, I received two e-mails from Naples residents, and also a letter from the Planning Board Chairman Larry Anton that outlines (his) concerns for the Town of Naples.”

A few weeks ago, after the March 13 meeting, Cebra said, “There were five Naples residents” who contacted him.

“They all pretty much were saying the same things,” Cebra said. “They had been reading about what is going on in Augusta” with the marijuana legislation.

According to Cebra, who serves in the House of Representatives in Augusta, a special committee has been tasked with reviewing the 25-plus page law.

“They formed a Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization with both house and senate members to look at that pieces that are contradicting and to make it a workable law,” he said. “When it passed, it was legal for kids to possess marijuana. It got passed. Once the language was on the ballot, it couldn’t be changed.”

On Monday, Cebra provided the board with an update by reading the text from a fellow legislator on the joint committee. That committee member predicted that the work on the law will not be done until sometime next year, in 2018, Cebra read.

Despite the time reprieve for the finalization of the Marijuana Legalization Act, the selectmen would like to move forward with adopting a moratorium.

One resident, Glenn Yale, said he had concerns about people in Naples getting into the commercial growing aspect of the “new” industry, and doing it improperly. He was worried about driving through town and seeing nothing but marijuana fields in the open space. He hoped there would be guidelines to prevent fly-by-night operations.

“From what I read, you can grow up to six plants for personal use and/or gifting,” Yale said.

“If someone has agricultural land, anyone can grow anything on agricultural land. If I have land that is deemed agricultural, I can “throw up” a greenhouse and grow and sell wholesale to a dispensary,” Yale said.

Later during the discussion, Chairman Caron said, “We need an ordinance to regulate” commercial growing operations.

Chairman Caron brought up some items from Anton’s e-mail, including the need to maintain a distance between marijuana establishments and the town’s churches and schools — something that should be controlled in the same manner as liquor licensing.

“We don’t have our own law enforcement,” Caron said. “People would have to call the sheriff’s deputies.”

He expressed a concern about public roads, too.

“There are a half-dozen individuals talking about farms and fields they own. They would have trucks coming in to harvest” the marijuana. That would cause wear and tear to town roads, Caron said. “We need to protect Naples residents and to also protect our roads.”

Cebra referred again to the MMA bullet summary.

“It deals with retail stores and social clubs,” Cebra said. “The moratorium wouldn’t have anything to do with growing.”

One resident suggested speaking with towns that have passed a moratorium and acquiring a list of pros and cons. She also advised putting together a bullet summary for the public about the issue.

Chairman Caron said the board will hold two or three more workshops on the topic “to inform people before the town meeting.”

Additionally, Caron said he planned to ask the town attorney for advice.

The law firm Jensen Baird Gardner and Henry, which is engaged by both Naples and Casco, have provided an online sample of a marijuana moratorium for municipalities to adopt.

According to the MMA magazine, Maine Townsman, “Town and cities are urged to confront myriad issues surrounding legalized marijuana now, even as the Legislature modifies our new law.”

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