by Mary Grow
Vassalboro voters lopsidedly approved a ban on recreational marijuana facilities in town at their Jan. 9 special town meeting. With more than the required quorum of 125 voters in the Vassalboro Community School cafeteria, the “Ordinance Prohibiting Retail Marijuana Establishments and Retail Marijuana Social Clubs in the Town of Vassalboro” was debated for almost half an hour. Although speakers divided fairly evenly for and against the ordinance, when Moderator Richard Thompson called for a show of hands, 100 or more people voted for the ordinance and only about two dozen voted against.
The new town ordinance, allowed under the state recreational marijuana law approved Nov. 8, says: “Retail marijuana establishments, including retail marijuana stores, retail marijuana cultivation facilities, retail marijuana products manufacturing facilities, and retail marijuana testing facilities, and retail marijuana social clubs, are expressly prohibited in this municipality.” The ordinance does not apply to “any lawful use, possession or conduct pursuant to the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act.”
Jim Pfleging, a former California law enforcement official, was the first and one of the most vehement supporters of the ban. He called marijuana shops and social clubs “attractive nuisances” that would promote money-laundering and theft, lead to more instances of impaired driving and increase demands on the town police chief.
Because the business has to be conducted in cash, he said, there would be no records and therefore minimal tax benefits to the town.
Pfleging was later challenged by a medical marijuana caregiver who said he was able to use banks and credit cards. Medical marijuana is different, state Rep. Richard Bradstreet said; he agreed with Pfleging that banks “won’t touch” recreational marijuana dealing as long as it’s illegal under federal law.
Most of those opposed to the ordinance wanted to see what regulations the state creates before closing off what could be an opportunity for new businesses in town. They felt a ban was too hasty, given the lack of knowledge about what effects the new state law will have.
Bradstreet was among critics of that point of view, saying his support of the ban was motivated “by what I do know about marijuana, not by what I don’t know.”
Selectman Lauchlin Titus’s motion that the vote be by written ballot “because some people are going to be uncomfortable” voting publicly was overwhelmingly defeated. After the ban was approved, voters passed over the second ballot item, which asked for a moratorium on marijuana facilities and, selectmen explained, was included as an alternative if the ban were rejected. The meeting adjourned less than an hour after it started.
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