Rockport Select Board seeks public opinion on marijuana
Rockport — On April 10 members of the Rockport Select Board have voted in favor of placing a non-binding question on the annual town meeting ballot in June to seek residents' opinions on the presence of marijuana-related facilities in the town.
At the meeting the Select Board also announced plans to organize an educational forum at the end of May to inform themselves and members of the public on specifics related to legislature passed last November which legalized the personal use of marijuana throughout Maine.
In addition to allowing the possession, use and sale of marijuana by persons over the age of 21, the referendum also allows for cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and testing facilities. The referendum, which appeared as Question 1 on the November ballot, passed by a margin of 10 votes in Rockport.
The state is expected to complete their rule-making process by Feb. 18, 2018. Prior to this date the Select Board and the Ordinance Review Committee will be examining the town's Land Use Ordinance. Currently the ordinance makes no provisions for marijuana-related establishments, and a marijuana shop could be permitted within retail zones.
Prior to the vote, Town Manager Rick Bates reported that the marijuana industry is predicted to have annual sales of more than $250 million, ahead of the state's potato industry. Having attended seminars on the subject, Bates said it was unclear what the local benefit, if any, would be from this money.
Bates outlined three options the Select Board could consider as legislation is finalized on the state level. The first option would be "do nothing and let the rules play out." The second option, which Bates referred to as the "sledgehammer approach," would ask Rockport voters to prohibit the commercial component of the new law.
The third option would ask voters for a non-binding vote to see if there was support in the community for developing an ordinance change that would allow the retail sales, testing and manufacturing of marijuana in Rockport. The vote would be taken by secret ballot at the annual town meeting.
"At some point we're going to have to have an ordinance vote on this. Doing nothing means that we're basically saying 'we're going to allow it because right now in our ordinance we have a land use of retail sales without any qualifiers,'" said Board member Ken McKinley.
McKinley said the Ordinance Review Committee will need to determine which uses within the town are currently permitted, and both he and Board member Geoff Parker spoke in favor of holding a public information forum hosted by an expert on the subject prior to the June town meeting.
"There are a lot of unknowns and if we don't educate ourselves and in that process educate those people who are interested...it's going to be a vote based on fears and delights," said Parker, of placing a non-binding poll question before voters in June.
"I think that we should do [a public forum], and I would be happy to ask some folks to show up and answer questions," said Board member Owen Casas, who added it is important to have experts present who can explain the specifics of testing and manufacturing facilities.
Board member Brendan Riordan spoke in opposition of seeking public opinion on marijuana via a non-binding ballot question.
"If we feel like we don't know what would be responsible for our community...if we feel like we can't do that without doing some more research...why do we place such emphasis on whatever people happen to feel off the cuff based on whatever information they happen to have, on the ballot?" said Riordan.
"The idea that this issue is too complicated for the voters to give an opinion on, I reject that argument. We rely on the voters to tell us stuff [despite] incomplete knowledge," said Casas.
McKinley, Parker, Casas and Board Chairman Bill Chapman voted in favor of placing a non-binding question on the June town meeting ballot. Riordan voted against the proposal, saying that he was not confident that a successful information forum could be organized before then.
The following example of a non-binding opinion poll was provided in the agenda for the Select Board's April 10 meeting, and may be similar to that which appears before Rockport voters in June:
"Do you support allowing retail marijuana establishments and marijuana social clubs to operate in the Town of Rockport and the development of amendments to the Land Use Ordinance to regulate the location and operation of those uses?"
Courier Publications reporter Louis Bettcher can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.