POWNAL — Before the town has even written up rules, the idea of allowing marijuana in Pownal is already stirring up conflict among residents.  

Monday night’s selectmen workshop to draft a marijuana ordinance drew about a dozen people split over whether or not to allow marijuana sales, growth or processing in town.

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A rough draft of the rules will be available at the second workshop, Feb. 11. Then there will be another two weeks for members of the public to submit their comments before a final draft is made. Then there will be two public hearings, starting in April. Then residents will vote on the matter at the annual town meeting in June.

While the issue may seem new to the public, according to Select Board Chairman Jon Morris, the board has been weighing and working on the issue for close to six months after they were “petitioned by a resident and a few businesses to present the opportunity to cultivate marijuana products in the town.”

(AP file photo)

Pownal town officials are looking to communities like Brunswick, Lisbon, Houlton and Lewiston to help draft the ordinance, except, Morris said, Pownal is leaning toward not allowing any marijuana retail in town. The draft is primarily concerning manufacturing and cultivation. With just 1,500 people in town, Pownal has a constable, but no police force. If any problems were to arise with security or regulation, they would have little ability for enforcement, he said, adding that the town might not be ready for cannabis retail shops. 

Some locals in the audience argued that a marijuana retail would bring people to town.

“There is no industry in town,” resident and business owner Andrew Hanscom, said. “I think it would be a wonderful reason for people to visit.” He added that to him, marijuana fits in much like alcoholic beverage sales. “I don’t think it would be terrible for the town,” he said, noting too that marijuana could blend with Pownal’s agricultural background.

David Stevenson, a cannabis grower in Durham looking to open a business in Pownal, agreed. If properly regulated, just like any crop, it would bring in a lot of business and money, he argued.

“This isn’t an evil plant,” he said. “If you opened your arms to the cannabis community, people would flock here.”

But to resident Tom Hall, that’s exactly one of his concerns. Studies have shown, he said, that when marijuana is legalized, driving under the influence and driving fatalities increase, “I don’t want to bring people into town who are more likely to imbibe in marijuana,” he said. If it does come, he wants it to be “especially well vetted.”

Marik Clark, who recently moved back from Oregon, where recreational pot use is legal, is concerned that history will repeat itself. In her previous community there were issues with people, “meth heads,” she said, trying to make money by stealing from the grow operations, posing a significant risk to security. Not only that, but it ultimately affected property values, children in the area, water quality and other factors.

“I’m not against marijuana,” she said, but, like Hall, wants to make sure that an ordinance is well thought out and addresses all the possible impacts.

Morris said the ordinance being drafted would strictly either “allow or disallow” marijuana cultivation and manufacturing and that any operation seeking to establish in Pownal would also have to go before the planning board.

They are also attempting to regulate manufacturing processes so that the systems being used are “as close to organic as possible,” but that they are working with the town’s attorney to determine the legality of such a regulation, he said.

The board of selectmen is “being very careful to be fair to the people who are interested in creating a business that includes cannabis,” Morris said, while also remaining “completely transparent to the townspeople.”

The first draft of the ordinance will be available for the next workshop, set for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11.

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