Pot-based businesses worry Naples officials

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — With the current Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak leaving next month for a town manager position in Gorham, he wanted to make certain that Naples staff and the planning board worked together on a proposed marijuana moratorium.

He recommended that the board keep the topic on its future agendas.

During the Naples Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, Paraschak shared information about how the town could put the moratorium in place, which would halt any pot-growing or retail stores from popping up within the town’s borders.

It was brought up two weeks ago that a small business law pertaining to agriculture could potentially allow marijuana-based businesses to locate in Naples without going before the planning board with a site plan.

Unlike some city councils, the Naples board does not have the authority to pass a moratorium, Paraschak said. It has to be passed by the legislative body, he said. That means a marijuana moratorium must be approved by residents at a special town meeting, he said.

“I can direct town staff to work with the planning board to correct agricultural loopholes,” Paraschak said.

“Using the MMA template, they would be ready to go whenever the board is,” he said.

Selectman Rich Cebra said a moratorium exists on the state level, but the town needs its own moratorium.

“The language that the MMA [Maine Municipal Association] has written will address every issue,” Cebra said.

Chairman Jim Grattelo preferred a hybrid moratorium, especially tailored for Naples’ needs.

“We want the MMA language coupled with what we need to fix our” town’s concerns, Grattelo said.

The chairman stressed that any moratorium should prohibit marijuana-related businesses from existing on the Causeway or in the Historical Village District.

As was mentioned during the July 24 meeting, some board members surmised that when residents passed the recreational marijuana law, some voters may not have foreseen the possibility of pot-based businesses being set up in their hometown.

On Monday, Selectman Jim Turpin asked for a clarification of whether the moratorium would address medical marijuana — which has been legal for years — or the recently approved recreational pot law or both.

He expressed a concern about any lawsuits stemming from the town prohibiting people who are licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana.

“I don’t want them to get confused. For example, there are registered caregivers who are catering to their patients. They are allowed to have a retail showroom to show their wares. [It is] not for the public but for patients,” Turpin said.

“I am pretty concerned about the recreational side of things,” he said.

Cebra predicted that time would pass before the state legislature figures out the recreational marijuana law that appeared on the November ballot through a citizens’ signature initiative.

A member of the audience, who worked as a registered nurse, suggested that town officials seek the advice of other towns like Gray that are working on or have passed 180-day moratoriums, and also with the Lake Region Substance Abuse Coalition.

“I think you are right to get the guidelines on paper,” she said.

She recommended a public information night for the residents of Naples.

Selectman Bob Caron II responded, saying whenever a proposed ordinance comes before the board, “there is a workshop that is open to the public.”

“We do get input from the public and the community,” Caron said.

Resident Roger Clement asked if a special town meeting was the only way to protect the town from unwanted marijuana-based businesses.

“Town meeting? Is that because we don’t have a town charter?” Clement asked.

Paraschak fielded the question.

“No, you may have the power if you had a town council form of government. I don’t know many towns that grant the selectmen authority to just change an ordinance,” he said. “The voters have to vote on it.”

Grattelo agreed.

“The board has no authority. The town has to investigate what power it would have if it enacted a town charter,” Grattelo said. “It is totally different for town councils like Portland or Biddeford. They can pass ordinances.”

“To have a town charter, it would be a year or more. It is not going to get us where we want to be any quicker,” he said.

Caron said that any moratorium is in the hands of the taxpaying residents — during the public input period and when the special town meeting occurs.

“The taxpayers, as a whole, have a say in any law or ordinance that gets passed,” he said.

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