by Mary Grow
Vassalboro residents need to keep their eyes open for notice of a special town meeting likely to be scheduled in January 2017 to vote on recreational marijuana in town. About 30 people attended the selectmen’s Dec. 1 public meeting to talk about how town officials ought to respond to the state vote approving the recreational use of marijuana. The Marijuana Legalization Act allows residents to cultivate, manufacture, distribute, sell and test retail marijuana products and to open marijuana social clubs. Lauchlin Titus, chairman of the board of selectmen, suggested three possible options. Vassalboro could prohibit recreational marijuana use within town boundaries; it could create a moratorium for up to 180 days, which could be extended for another 180 days, to provide time to develop local regulations; or it could take no action.
Either the first or second option requires a decision by voters, not selectmen, Titus said. Selectmen concluded that it would not be advisable to wait until the June 2017 town meeting to seek voter action.
Most of those who spoke at the Dec. 1 meeting favored a ban or at least a moratorium. New state Representative Richard Bradstreet pointed out that a majority of Vassalboro voters opposed legalization on Nov. 8.
Jim Pfleging, a retired lawman from California, urged a ban and was promptly supported by four or five others.
Pfleging said the problem is not so much marijuana as what comes with it. Because business is transacted in cash due to federal prohibitions that make it impossible to use the banking system, marijuana operations become “money-laundering facilities,” likely to underpay taxes and attract thieves and other criminals.
Several speakers explored the connection between medical marijuana, legal under existing law and regulations, and recreational marijuana. No one was able to say whether Vassalboro’s crime rate had gone up since the town acquired medical marijuana facilities. There was consensus that a ban or moratorium would not affect currently licensed medical facilities; how such action would relate to their hypothetical future expansion was another unknown.
If Vassalboro is to hold a special town meeting to act on a ban or a moratorium, a quorum of 125 registered voters must be present, Titus said – more voters than attend some of the June town meetings. Audience members thought the topic would bring people out.
The Marijuana Legalization Act is currently subject to a ballot recount; assuming the yes vote stands, it will probably take effect early in January. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the state licensing authority, has up to nine months to adopt rules for regulation and control of activities covered by the law, including developing licensing procedures, qualifications for licensure, security requirements for licensed premises and appeal procedures if a license application is denied. Titus and fellow Selectman Philip Haines doubt a state agency can adopt major rules in so short a time. Within 30 days after the rules are adopted the department is to begin accepting applications.
At the short selectmen’s meeting that preceded the marijuana discussion, Town Manager Mary Sabins said Mark Brown has taken over as police chief, after a period when he and retiring chief Richard Phippen worked together to transfer responsibilities. Selectmen again expressed interest in changing Vassalboro’s streetlights to LED lights. They asked Sabins to find out whether Central Maine Power Company is planning a change; if not, they have information from other companies.
The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting will be Thursday evening, Dec. 15.
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