Maine cities and towns are moving to enact moratoriums on marijuana social clubs and retail stores in anticipation of the passage of referendum Question 1 on the ballot in November.

Although other states have legalized marijuana, Maine could become the first state to establish clubs where people can consume recreational marijuana in a social setting. That dynamic, as well as regulating where marijuana should be sold, is what towns are debating, since they have no existing rules or zoning ordinances.

The town of Gray last week adopted a six-month moratorium, retroactive to Sept. 20, that would allow the town to establish regulations on clubs and other retail establishments where marijuana could be sold or consumed. The City Council in Brewer also voted unanimously this month to enact a six-month ban.

And the city of Westbrook and town of Cumberland will each discuss similar moratoriums at meetings Monday.

Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said the organization doesn’t keep any list of what towns adopt or discuss. He did, however, say that the association’s legal department has fielded a number of questions from municipal officials across the state about Question 1, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Maine and also has provisions for marijuana to be sold at retail outlets and consumed at clubs.

“Question 1 provides municipalities with a fair amount of control over marijuana availability and siting of various establishment,” he said. “If it passes, we believe towns and cities that want to will take advantage of those provisions. We expect a lot of action on the local level if Question 1 passes.”


Supporters of legalization aren’t concerned about the potential impact of local regulations.

“We welcome the discussion that towns are having regarding regulating marijuana,” said David Boyer of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group supporting Question 1. “This initiative has a strong local-control component to it, something the Maine Municipal Association has acknowledged. We are leaving it up to towns to decide if they think marijuana should be sold by licensed legal businesses or on the black market. We hope towns see the benefits of regulating marijuana, which has worked in other states.”

One of the major reasons for including language to allow social clubs is to appeal to tourists. Colorado, which has seen an increase in tourism since it legalized marijuana, does not have social clubs, and many who travel there to consume marijuana don’t always have a place to do it. However, since its law passed, private, members-only clubs have sprung up in the state.

Scott Gagnon, spokesman for Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, the group opposing Question 1, said he’s still working to persuade Mainers to vote “no,” but that he’d be “derelict” not to consider the possibility that the referendum will pass. He said there will no doubt be many towns that don’t want that kind of tourism.

“We will certainly provide support to municipalities that want to create local restrictions, and we have heard from a number of municipal folks who are interested in talking to us about that,” Gagnon said.

Towns are not yet moving to establish outright bans on marijuana clubs or stores; they are only considering moratoriums to allow time to discuss whether local restrictions make sense. In some cases, that might mean allowing clubs or retail shops in certain zones. However, towns will be permitted to pass outright bans, although private marijuana use and possession would still be allowed. Towns generally have flexibility to place reasonable restrictions on where certain businesses can be located.


Conrad said Question 1 addresses municipal approval for clubs and retail stores, but the language is ambiguous.

“But we believe that means that towns and cities that want to regulate, or not allow social clubs and retail sales at all, must take action in those regards,” he said. “That is what we’re advising members when they contact us, as several have. In other words, if a town does not take action, the presumption will be that marijuana clubs and sales are legal within its boundaries with few restrictions.”

Westbrook City Manager Jerre Bryant, explaining why the matter is on the council agenda for Monday, said the city wanted to be prepared if Question 1 passes.

“If indeed the state referendum on recreational marijuana passes, where does that leave us from a regulatory standpoint?” he said.

In an Oct. 3 letter to Cumberland Town Manager William Shane, attorney Alyssa Tibbetts said many towns will likely consider moratoriums if the referendum is approved.

“We would be happy to draft something for the town; however, it would not need to be enacted until after the November 8 election if there have been no inquiries or proposed applications made that include retail marijuana use,” Tibbetts wrote.


Cumberland town councilors will discuss the matter Monday, but they doesn’t mean they will vote.

Boyer said towns don’t need to rush, because it’s likely that the full implementation of marijuana legalization, particularly the establishment of retail shops and social clubs, won’t happen for at least nine months because the state needs to establish a licensing process.

Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall said in an email Friday that his staff is prepared to lead a discussion about local regulations if Question 1 passes, but there will be sufficient time for that after Nov. 8. He said there has been interest from people in town about leasing space for a retail operation.

Conrad said some towns may want to enact moratoriums as a way to “send a broad message that marijuana in general is not welcome in that community.”

A Portland Press Herald poll of 505 likely voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center last month found that 53 percent were in favor of Question 1 while 38 percent were opposed.

Recreational marijuana is legal in four states – Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska – and eight additional states, including Maine, will vote on legalization this year.

The rush to adopt emergency moratoriums on marijuana clubs and stores is in some ways similar to how towns responded to the 2011 passage of a law that lifted the ban on fireworks in Maine. Many communities have since passed local ordinances that prohibit the use of fireworks, leading to confusion among some, especially tourists, about where they can be set off.


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