Voters in Union approved a proposal to ban all recreational marijuana facilities at the annual town meeting June 19.

After some discussion, the ban was approved by a 33-19 vote.

About 50 people attended the meeting, approving a $4.7 million budget, which represents an increase of $61,416, or 1.32 percent.

Town Manager Jay Feyler said in May that the increase was not expected to affect the property tax rate.

Most articles passed quickly and without discussion. Residents approved a new 10-year comprehensive plan.

Some residents did express displeasure with the ordinances banning marijuana facilities and allowing signs on Heald Highway that change every 3 seconds.

The marijuana ordinance prohibits retail marijuana stores, social clubs, and cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities, the five types of establishments defined under the state referendum question legalizing recreational marijuana and approved by voters last year.

While private, personal use and cultivation of marijuana by adults has been legal in Maine since January, the Legislature has yet to develop regulations for retail sales, and selling marijuana remains illegal. State lawmakers have until next February to develop those regulations.

The ordinance does not have any effect on medical marijuana in Union or on adult residents' right under state law to privately possess, use and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana.

Two residents spoke against the marijuana ordinance, with both emphasizing potential economic opportunities in allowing facilities.

Town Assessor Jim Murphy framed it differently, saying he believed retail facilities would be detrimental to surrounding property values.

Feyler said he had studied the issue and believed that the town could be at risk of legal consequences from enforcement of the federal prohibition of marijuana if it allowed retail facilities, or from litigation by aspiring marijuana business owners if it merely enacted a six-month moratorium.

However, he said, "Just because we're prohibiting it now doesn't mean it's going to be prohibited forever." He said the Planning Board, Select Board, or a citizens' petition could initiate a new ordinance process, but that for now, the prohibition would buy the town time.

Some residents also spoke against allowing changeable signs on Heald Highway, saying they could be a distraction to drivers and were not in keeping with Union's rural character.

Resident Karina Shorten stood to say she had a problem with the ordinance and noted the difference between the state limits on changing signs and the town's proposal. She said the town ordinance allowed for a "rapid change," and called the 90-square-foot signs permitted under the ordinance "huge." The 90-square-foot size will be allowed where posted speed limits are 51 mph or more.

"These signs are gonna totally change, potentially, the rural nature of this town," Shorten added.

Code Enforcement Officer Grant Watmough said the state allows signs to change only once every 20 minutes, but permits local control of the issue. The Union ordinance allows a change every 3 seconds, provided a full message cycle lasts at least 25 seconds.

Ken Kieran, owner of Union Farm Equipment, spoke in favor of the ordinance. He said the Department of Transportation received a complaint and notified him that his sign, after four years of use, was not in compliance with state regulations. But he said he had used the sign as a "community bulletin board," displaying messages such as the Union Fair schedule and reminders to vote, and that less frequent changes precluded this use.

The ordinance "will be a benefit to our business," Kieran acknowledged. "But I think that it will be a benefit to our community."

Voters ultimately approved the ordinance.

Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at dsmith@villagesoup.com.