The Bath City Council voted, 5-1, Feb. 14 to enact a moratorium on all marijuana-related businesses because the state has yet to issue guidelines for the sale of recreational pot.

The moratorium, which would last for six months if it passes a second reading on March 7, would place a temporary ban on marijuana storefronts.

Several communities in the area have already instituted similar moratoriums on the sale of marijuana, which was legalized by voters in 2016 but is being delayed as the Legislature struggles to agree on regulations for the industry.

“The state has really kind of had a hard time coming up with those rules,” said Andrew Deci, director of planning and development for Bath.

Deci said the lack of state-issued guidelines has raised legal questions that could allow businesses to start up. It also makes it difficult for the city to establish any rules of its own. “I can’t lead an effort on developing those rules until the state gets their stuff together.”

City officials worry that Bath could leave itself open to legal issues that have already cropped up in other towns. Police Chief Michael Fields said there have already been cases of businesses selling marijuana out of a storefront, utilizing gaps in the language of the law passed by citizen’s initiative. He cited one store that was selling paraphernalia, and then ‘gifting’ marijuana with the sales, which the law technically doesn’t make illegal.

City solicitor Roger Therriault said if a business selling marijuana opens before any ordinances are in place, it leaves the city in a tough spot. “We don’t want to be behind that process, we want to be ahead of that process, so that we can make our regulations and deal with these kinds of enterprises in a manner that is proactive for Bath.”

Councilor Terry Nordmann was the lone vote opposing the moratorium. In the year prior, Bath has had no issues discouraging marijuana-related businesses from trying to open there, he said. “It sounds like we’re dealing with it now, without a moratorium.”

Enacting a moratorium, he said, would send the wrong message to anyone interested in opening a business in Bath. “I don’t like the idea of making a big point of discouraging businesses.”

The moratorium, if passed a second time March 7, would not affect Wellness Connection, the city’s existing medical marijuana facility on Centre Street. The moratorium includes an exemption for licensed medical facilities.

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