BRUNSWICK — Councilors narrowly voted to approve a zoning amendment that will allow marijuana stores, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing and testing facilities in the town’s Growth Industrial District starting Jan. 1.

Public hearings were also set for Nov. 5 to discuss licensing ordinances and extending the moratorium on medical marijuana by one month to Jan. 1, so, as Town Manager John Eldridge said, “everything can line up.”

The board also voted to increase the town’s fund balance and ask the state to declare a public health emergency due to the browntail moth infestation. 

The zoning change barely passed by a 5-4 vote Monday night, with Jane Millett, Chairman John Perrault, David Watson and Christopher Watkinson opposed.

Councilor Kathy Wilson equated the issue of medical marijuana to that of alcohol and prohibition, citing hypocrisy when alcohol can be found in local supermarkets.

“In my mind, I’d rather see the marijuana than the alcohol,” Wilson said.

Although the measure passed, several councilors said they were uncertain about the impact medical marijuana businesses would have on the town’s image and they worried about the substance and its accessibility to children.

Under the amendments, the uses will not be allowed within 500 feet of existing schools, including the rec center’s preschool at Brunswick Landing.

“I think the fact that we are hiding it from our youth and just not having it on display is a symbol that we don’t think that it’s desirable,” Millett said.

Others, like Watkinson, had concerns over how “restrictive” the amendments are and limiting businesses to the industrial zone, where public transportation is limited and patient access could be difficult.

Although under the amendments the uses are restricted to the industrial area, Eldridge said as a board they could decide later to change the limited access.

This could mean tighter restrictions or even zoning extensions, which Councilors Kathy Wilson and James Mason said they were interested in.

Councilor Suzan Wilson said she wanted “the foot in the door” on the issue, as medical marijuana is already legal in the state.

According to Brunswick Police Cmdr. Mark Waltz, licensing ordinances give the town more control and leniency when it comes to regulating medical marijuana businesses.

Each license has to be renewed annually and reviewed by the police and fire chiefs along with the health inspector. The town has the ability to call for inspections at the town’s discretion or if “issues arise,” Waltz added.

Amending the budget

The town council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to the municipal budget for the period of July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, to allow the town to increase the amount appropriated from the fund balance by up to $300,000 and decrease the amount from taxation by the same amount, ensuring that the previously expected tax rate the council anticipated when the budget was adopted on May 14 can be met.

Despite the unanimous vote, the town council still does not have a reliable estimate of this year’s valuation of the town.

Also, with tax bills still needing to be sent out, Eldridge predicts most of them will be sent out by the end of the month with a due date of Nov 30. He admits that the town had a “gap between the time the former assessor retired and the new assessor came in” and explained that the existing back log of abatement’s contributed to bills being sent out later than usual.

Browntail moths 

As Brunswick and surrounding areas experience a widespread infestation of Browntail moth caterpillars, town councilors moved one step closer to accessing an aerial treatment program to combat the infestation.

Town councilors voted unanimously on Monday to adopt a resolution asking the state to declare a public health emergency due to the infestation, which poses serious health risks to the public.

Red zones, which the Bureau of Health identified as areas infestations are the most severe, are located around Brunswick, Freeport and Yarmouth.

The infestation, according to Eldridge, is only getting worse and “it won’t take long until a browntail comes near you, is the way it looks,” he said.

Although adopting a resolution triggers the availability of an aerial spray program, Eldridge said the town has the ability to opt out in the future.

“We are trying to approach the state in a uniform way and say ‘it’s in Cumberland and Sagadahoc and we need you to take notice of this problem and help us the best you can to help us through it,” Eldridge said.

Patti McDonald can be reached at 740-8335 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @veggiepattiruns.

Brunswick Police Cmdr. Mark Waltz speaks to town councilors about regulations around medical marijuana licensing on Monday night.

Brunswick councilors discuss medical marijuana licensing on Oct. 15 prior to voting on medical marijuana zoning amendments.