Retail sale of recreational marijuana is finally heading down the homestretch towards becoming a reality in our supposedly “Dirigo” state. After nearly threes years of waiting for Augusta’s lead and a year of municipal head-scratching, Bath’s city councilors have now given preliminary approval to allowing such establishments but remain hesitant about rolling out a real welcome mat.  

Watching Bath’s last City Council meeting was to witness can-kicking extraordinaire. The entire deliberative body hemmed and hawed their way towards almost denying any advancement at all in carrying out the will of the people expressed at the ballot box. That evening’s more confused than contentious “first passage” reluctantly endorsed the “how” of overly due diligence performance standards but not the “where.”  

Basically, consensus held that sales should be as restricted as possible while still being legally permitted. The major sticking point remains whether to allow sales in all existing business zones or just along the city’s Route 1 corridor.  

Contrast that to the council’s recent way enthusiastic support for Bath’s first brewpub. First and second passages of that additional purveyance of totally recreational alcohol were roundly applauded and officially greeted with great anticipation. Councilors excitingly voiced their endorsement in looking forward to being among the first patrons to toast that business’s success in the heart of Bath’s downtown.  

Pot’s no longer legally considered a controlled substance in Maine any more so than alcohol, tobacco or caffeine. 

The trouble is getting the government to once again get out of the way of adult personal freedom. Why should the sale of cigarettes, coffee or beer be routinely greenlighted while marijuana’s far less harmful pleasures and beneficial health attributes are still castigated? Why should one product be singled out and denied the same zoning privileges bestowed on the others?  

One council member expressed her cautionary prescience that “We are the dark ages of the future” and should be “as forward-thinking as possible.” A more negatively fearful councilor countered that “There’s a reason we don’t see the sale of controlled substances smack dab in the middle of our quaint town.” Fortunately, that logic’s never been applied to Wilson’s Drug Store, which still anchors much of the City of Ships’ downtown charm. What remains most puzzling is how Bath’s only existing medical marijuana dispensary ever managed to secure approval of its prime downtown Centre Street location. Its ongoing total absence of any controversy proves that community sensitive cannabis sales can coexist with Bath’s Maine Street ethos. How its sale of recreational marijuana would suddenly change that existing business dynamic is illogical.  

I can remember when Maine limited the sale of liquor to state-run no-frills stores resembling DMV offices. Now one can simply go to any supermarket. Today it’s hard to imagine that not so long ago Geary Brewing Co. was a lone craft beer startup of what’s now an omnipresent expansive part of Maine’s economy. Craft distilleries are unproblematically on the rise. Retail marijuana businesses elsewhere have demonstrated that their storefronts and advertising can be as upscale as any product line and that their consumer demographics are an impressive far cry from feared encouragement of any “undesirable element.” Marginalizing marijuana’s growing social acceptance to the outskirts of the community is hardly in keeping with Bath’s touted moniker of being Maine’s Cool Little City. Does Bath’s leadership want fringe businesses rather than desirable consumer destination points that collaterally boost all other equal opportunity entrepreneurship downtown and all around?  

That’s the question with which the City Council now wrestles. I could care less as to whether recreational pot is eventually sold in Bath’s downtown, or mixed-use zones, as I don’t see myself becoming a customer anytime soon.  

What concerns me is the “development” of any additional unsightly stand-alone businesses along Route 1, whose anything-goes zoning standards are an affront to Bath’s otherwise Main Street sensibility.  

To think that confining less desirable business models to Bath’s most prominent entryway doesn’t affect the overall perception of Bath’s quality of place is somewhat at cross-purposes. It’s like deceitfully saying this isn’t what we are.  

Bath wants to be cool, different and unique, but keeps falling prey to the same-as-anywhere cultural complacency of which its Main Street persona ostensibly wants no part. Why should any place in Bath be zoned below a business desirability standard by which all of Bath can be proud and those passing by would envy?  

Gary Anderson lives in Bath. 

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