BRUNSWICK — Brunswick will allow marijuana cultivation facilities, stores, product manufacturing facilities and testing facilities in one of its zoning districts starting Jan. 1.

The town council passed the zoning amendments by a slim 5-4 margin Monday night, with councilors David Watson, Christopher Watkinson, Jane Millett and Chairman John Perrault opposed.

Under the amendments, these facilities are not allowed within 500 feet of an existing school, which includes the rec center’s preschool at Brunswick Landing. Anyone looking to open one of these businesses will need to get a conditional use permit from the town. 

Several of the councilors expressed concerns over restricting the businesses to the Growth Industrial zone, while others argued that placing such businesses in a zone with that name would present the “wrong” impression of the town and possibly negatively influence children.

Melissa Fochesato from the Midcoast Center for Community Health and Wellness said during the public hearing that she was concerned about marijuana’s impact on children. There is not enough research to make an informed decision, but that we should take heed from the impact of cigarettes and alcohol.

Millett agreed — to expressly hide marijuana from children shows that it is not something desirable for Brunswick, she said.

A National Institute on Drug Abuse report released in late 2017 found that over the previous year, marijuana use declined among 10th graders and remained unchanged among 8th and 12th graders compared to 5 years ago, despite changes in state marijuana laws.

Perrault said that it was “not good for our kids” but that he was fully in support of medical marijuana for those who need it, calling the issues “two different ball games.”

Councilor Kathy Wilson likened the discussion to those which she said were probably going on at the end of the prohibition era.

“In my mind, I’d rather see the marijuana than the alcohol,” she said, adding that she would not argue against putting it in an industrial district but that she also did not take issue with it being sold like liquor or beer in a supermarket.

While the uses are currently limited to the industrial area, the goal is to start out slow, Eldridge said, so as a board they could decide, later on, to change that.

As Wilson said, “it’s a foot in the door.”

Councilor Alison Harris argued simply that since the state legalized it and town voted for it, she felt inclined to move it forward.

Zoning and uses for medical marijuana are being handled in a different amendment, Town Manager John Eldridge said.

The council set a public hearing for Nov. 5 to discuss a licensing ordinance, which Police Cmdr. Mark Waltz said would give the town some local control. The current draft lists the costs of licenses for cultivation facilities at $600, products manufacturing facilities at $300 and retail stores and medical storefronts at $1,400, to be renewed annually and reviewed by the police chief, fire chief, code enforcement officer and health inspector.

They also voted to set another public hearing, also Nov. 5, to extend the moratorium on medical marijuana by one month to Jan. 1 so that all the moving parts would, as Eldridge said, “sync up.”

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