HARPSWELL — After a survey to gauge town opinion on the matter yielded no consensus, the Board of Selectmen is leaning toward endorsing a temporary ban on retail marijuana sales until the state creates rules for the new law.

While the board still needs to vote on whether to include the moratorium as a warrant article at Town Meeting in March, it authorized town staff to draft language for a moratorium that would ban retail sales of the substance for 180 days.

The survey was posted on the town website last month. But Town Planner Mark Eyerman said there was no consensus among approximately 100 people who responded.

“If you look at the results of the survey, we know nothing more than what we knew a month ago,” he told the board Jan. 19.

The survey asked respondents to rate their support or opposition to three options: do nothing and wait to see what kind of rules the state imposes, enact a moratorium on retail sales at March Town Meeting, or institute an outright ban on sales of the substance. 

The last option included an alternative phrasing, which allowed respondents to select specific kinds of retail stores and commercial facilities they would like to see banned.

“Essentially, if you look at the top-line results, just about half … of the 100 people who responded said they favored each of the three alternatives,” Eyerman said, when those who selected “strongly support” and “somewhat support” options were combined.

The survey did not gather any demographic information from participants.

In light of respondent’s mixed opinions, Eyerman said the path forward lies with selectmen, whose opinions also differ, but not dramatically.

Selectman Ellie Multer reiterated her cautionary stance that the town ought to impose the moratorium to prevent an influx of retailers and growers. She said nearby towns have enacted temporary bans, which would make Harpswell more attractive because of its lack of regulations.

Selectman Kevin Johnson, on the other hand, still favored a wait-and-see position, but was not so tethered to the stance that he opposed the authorization of a draft moratorium.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said Monday that selectmen will also have to discuss the timing of a potential moratorium.

Because Harpswell has a Town Meeting form of government, legislative actions can only take place annually, unless a special Town Meeting is called. While selectmen are able to extend a 180-day moratorium, Eiane said she has concerns and still needs to look into whether the extension would cover the town from one meeting to the next.

In a memo, Eyerman proposed the idea of passing a moratorium in March that would have a delayed start.

“A possible course of action (if legal counsel concurs) would be to ask Town Meeting to enact a 180-day moratorium on all applications for retail marijuana establishments, but to make the effective date of the moratorium say, May 1, 2017,” he said. “With a 180-day extension this would give the Town until April of 2018 to decide what it wants to do. This would allow us to see what the state rules are (under either state time line) and prepare an appropriate response.”

Eyerman acknowledged the likely possibility that the state will pass a moratorium to extend the rule-making period for the new law an additional three months beyond the nine-month period put forth in the referendum.

The extension would push the state rule to February 2018.

Meanwhile, the private use and personal possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana will become state law Jan. 30.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or [email protected]. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.