Westbrook is one of the first Maine cities to signal it might ban marijuana stores and social clubs if referendum Question 1 passes on the Nov. 8 ballot.

On Monday night, the Westbrook City Council took a first vote unanimously in favor of a 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana facilities in anticipation of legalization. The city would use that time to establish regulations for those businesses if there isn’t an outright ban, and a second and final vote will take place Nov. 7, the night before the election.

Already a majority of the seven councilors have expressed interest in banning from Westbrook any facilities for selling, growing, testing or using recreational marijuana.

“So right now, obviously possessing marijuana is illegal in Westbrook because it’s illegal,” said council President Brendan Rielly, who represents Ward 1. “If the referendum passes, that becomes legal, and there’s nothing we can do about that. The only thing we can ban is the social clubs, the marijuana establishments.”

Rielly said he opposes legalization because he considers marijuana a “gateway drug” to other substances, and he predicted the costs of licensing and regulating the recreational marijuana businesses would be a burden on Westbrook taxpayers.

Supporters of legalization have argued marijuana will still be sold on the black market in towns that ban businesses licensed by the state. However, they also acknowledge local control is an important part of the proposal.


If the referendum is approved, adults would be allowed to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana and six flowering plants. Local communities would be permitted to restrict recreational marijuana businesses to certain zones or pass outright bans on those businesses, although private marijuana use and possession would still be legal.

Westbrook is one of several communities taking action in anticipation of the vote. The town council in Gray and the City Council in Brewer already have adopted moratoriums to allow the towns to establish regulations on clubs and retail establishments where marijuana could be sold or consumed. The town of Cumberland is considering doing the same.

No members of the public spoke at Monday’s meeting. Mayor Colleen Hilton asked whether the moratorium would impact any businesses operating in Westbrook related to medical marijuana, but the city’s attorney said they would not be disrupted.

Rielly also voiced his hope for a ban during an Oct. 17 committee meeting. Westbrook police Chief Janine Roberts agreed with him, as did three other councilors — Ward 2’s Victor Chau, Ward 3’s Anna Turcotte and Ward 5’s Michael Sanphy.

“I do not want to live in a city where my children can freely smoke marijuana, and I would absolutely support banning it,” Turcotte said.

At-large Councilor John O’Hara was more skeptical during that discussion, recalling the 2011 passage of a law that lifted the ban on fireworks in Maine. At the time, many communities including Westbrook scrambled to pass local ordinances to prohibit the use of fireworks.


“We can go to Scarborough and buy fireworks, and we can go to Portland and buy fireworks, and we can go to Standish and buy fireworks,” O’Hara said. “So realistically if our neighbors decide not to enact a ban on (recreational marijuana facilities), then we can travel to a nearby community to pursue this product, to bring it back here and use it.”

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

Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Maine is one of eight additional states will vote on legalization next month.

Even as Westbrook moves closer to a moratorium, Rielly said he hopes Question 1 is defeated.

“I hope we don’t have to do anything on a local level,” Rielly said. “I hope it fails on Nov. 8. If it doesn’t, I hope we will ban it.”

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