Marijuana committee disbands, favors wait-and-see approach

By Beth A. Birmingham | Feb 18, 2019
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Freeman Zausner, right, a member of the Waldoboro Marijuana Committee charged with investigating the possible impacts  of retail marijuana facilities on the town, hands out folders with information supporting his group's findings. Also shown, from left, are Selectmen Abden Simmons and Clinton Collamore.

Waldoboro — After investigating the pros and cons of recreational marijuana for more than a year, the Waldoboro Marijuana Committee disclosed Feb. 12 its intent to disband.

Since September 2017, the committee has been meeting regularly to discuss retail marijuana and its implications on Waldoboro: hoow it would relate to children and families, agriculture, real estate, law enforcement, planning and zoning, the business community, energy usage, taxes, employers and workforce, health care, and environmental impacts, among others.

"We reached out to local school officials and local law enforcement to get their perspectives," Kate Marone, committee member, told the selectmen, noting individual committee members also did their own research and reported back.

"We had a lot of lively discussion and debate," she said, "and after all of this, the committee has really not been able to reach any solid consensus on most of these topics."

Marone said a minority of the group favored opting in to allowing retail marijuana facilities in town to get ahead of the industry, but the majority favored waiting to see how the state regulations play out and how other towns deal with the issues.

At its Jan. 16 meeting, the committee voted to disband for now, but strongly recommended it be reconvened, should the town decide to allow retail marijuana facilities in the future.

Written reports from both the minority and majority groups on the committee were presented to the Board of Selectmen.

Freeman Zausner, of the majority group, thanked Marone for her leadership over the course of the almost year-and-a-half project, then presented an executive summary and folders filled with news articles and the like to board members to support his group's findings.

"The people of Maine, by a narrow margin, voted to decriminalize recreational marijuana," Zausner said. "After that, Waldoboro voted to ban or basically opt out of recreational marijuana."

He said the groups did not look at criminalizing marijuana or people who use it legally, but looked more closely at the impact the state's decision would have on the town of Waldoboro.

Zausner noted two of the findings were that use of marijuana does have an impact on employment opportunities and it creates a hazardous environment for homes with children present.

He said the majority on the committee believes that retail recreational marijuana will "normalize" marijuana in the same way that tobacco and alcohol are normalized.

"The question is, do we want to add one more item to the socialization of marijuana in a retail context to the problems we already have," Zausner said.

He said that after hearing from a couple of school board members and the school resource officer it was disclosed that there is a significant problem with marijuana use at Medomak Valley High School, as well as outside of the school.

He explained that there is research that expressly states the effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain.

Zausner strongly recommended the town wait a couple of years to see what other towns do after regulations are  promulgated by the state, especially since the people of the town have already expressed that they didn't want retail recreational marijuana.

He said given the fact that Maine would have a short growing season outdoors, he believes most growing would be done in states where tobacco is already prominent, and he thought indoor growth would be too expensive.

Zausner noted he thought availability of marijuana -- both medical and recreational -- was plentiful, and again mentioned the dangers of binge drinking, smoking, and opioid use.

"I don't know why you would want to add to this," he said. "We should be prudent and we should think about our own children."

The Select Board thanked all of the committee members for their work and input, and accepted their request to remain dormant in case the town decides to opt in.

As for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities, the selectmen approved moving forward Jan. 22 with a 180-day moratorium.

Town Planner Max Johnstone had explained at the Jan. 8 meeting that on Dec. 13, 2018, LD 1539 went into effect, amending Maine's medical marijuana legislation, which now requires municipalities to opt in for any new medical marijuana businesses that come before them.

Current medical caregiver retail operations -- Highbrow, Cider Hill and Herbal Solutions -- are grandfathered, because they were approved by the Planning Board prior to Dec. 13.

The moratorium allows time to review language for a proposed amendment to the current Land Use Ordinance at the June referendum town meeting.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Marijuana committee disbands in Waldoboro
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