Towns approach pot retail stores differently

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Naples Interim Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz compared the marijuana moratorium to getting a flu shot.

“This is like a flu inoculation — it is better to have it than not,” he said.

What that means is the moratorium protects the town from having retail stores locate in Naples until town planners have determined where those businesses can best be located.

Obviously, what could or could not happen in the towns around Maine will be dictated by decisions in Augusta regarding the recreational use marijuana law.

The Maine State Legislature put in place a statewide moratorium effective until Feb. 1.

According to press releases, Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) brought forward a bill to extend the retail marijuana moratorium in Maine until May 1.

On Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen approved an updated version of the town’s existing Marijuana Moratorium.

Berkowitz summed up the effectiveness of the moratorium.

“Although the Town Meeting won’t act on this until June 18, there is always a concern that some entrepreneur may try to move in,” Berkowitz said.

“By making tonight (Jan. 8) the date the moratorium is effective, it is applicable retroactively as of tonight,” he said.

“So, I can say with clarity that we don’t have any application before us,” he said.

If someone came into the Naples Town Office with an application to establish a recreational marijuana retail store, that person or business would be told there is moratorium in place, he said.

“This is above and beyond (United States) Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ letter to law enforcement,” Berkowitz said.

Sessions’ memorandum, which was dated Jan. 4, stated that illegal activities such as money laundering stemming from marijuana sales are still unlawful, and that individuals may be prosecuted for those activities.

Also, the U.S. Attorney General said, “Given the Department’s well-established general principals, previous guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.

The town’s newly-appointed attorney Amy Tchao drafted the marijuana moratorium document.

All board members were present for the unanimous vote.

“As you know, we voted on it in October,” Chairman Jim Grattelo said.

“This is a copy to make it more official,” he said.

In the neighboring town, the Casco Board of Selectmen has opted to wait and see what the legislature does.

The best case scenario is that towns will have the option to vote whether or not to allow retail stores, Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said.

Since the citizen’s initiative to legalize recreational use of pot passed in November 2017, there have been about three inquiries to the Casco Code Enforcement Department about establishing a marijuana retail store.

Current legislation makes certain the retail stores maintain a distance from public schools and churches.

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