WASHINGTON — Voters approved a moratorium banning recreational marijuana retail sales in town, similar to one they rejected last year, following extensive debate Saturday at Town Meeting.

The proposed 180-day moratorium on recreational marijuana retail sales and social clubs, a proposal rejected by voters at last year’s Town Meeting, drew the most debate, with voters approving a moratorium after rejecting, in a 26-22 vote, a proposal offered by Budget Committee member David Martucci. Martucci suggested that instead of implementing a moratorium, voters could direct selectmen to appoint a committee to study the issue and come back with recommended rules for such establishments in town.

Martucci argued a moratorium isn’t necessary because the state still hasn’t passed rules and regulations for retail recreational marijuana businesses, despite a 2016 referendum that legalized marijuana use by adults. He said moratoriums should be used only for emergencies.

“Here we are again. I’m still confused, because I’m not sure what the emergency is,” Martucci said. “We didn’t have an emergency a year ago, because the state hadn’t passed any rules and regulations; and now the state still hasn’t, so these places can’t operate legally anyway.”

Other residents, including Don Grinnell, also a Budget Committee member, argued the town should have a moratorium so it has time to put rules in place in case the state finally approves regulations, to avoid having someone submit an application for a retail marijuana business before the town has its own rules in place.

Selectman Thomas Johnston said the Maine Municipal Association and the town’s legal adviser recommended the town take action to prevent a retail recreational marijuana business from potentially seeking to open a business in Washington after the state passes statewide regulations but before the town sets local regulations on such businesses.

“Is this an emergency?” Johnston asked, rhetorically. “I think to some people, it may reflect that.”

Residents eventually voted in favor of a suggestion from Grinnell, approving the moratorium but directing the selectmen to appoint a committee to study the issue and make recommendations on how to regulate retail recreational marijuana businesses.

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