DURHAM — Durham voters will decide next month what, if any, marijuana establishments to allow in town, but officials and residents alike worry that with the town’s limited resources, a marijuana industry in any form might not fit.

Durham town office. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

In separate warrant articles on the November ballot, voters will be asked to weigh in on the operation of retail recreational marijuana establishments, cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities, as well as medical marijuana caregiver stores, dispensaries,  manufacturing facilities and testing facilities. The final article asks voters to allocate $5,000 from the undesignated fund balance for professional services to help develop a marijuana ordinance. 

According to Kevin Nadeau, select board chair, the warrant articles aren’t an endorsement from the town, but rather an opportunity for Durham to decide whether to “opt in” after the state legalized marijuana in 2016. 

Nadeau said that a straw poll at the time of legalization indicated that just over half of Durham residents were in favor of allowing some type of marijuana establishments in town. 

The majority of residents attending a public hearing late last month, however, were against such a change. 

Faced with only a minimal increase in revenue (from higher property values and licensing fees), no zoning districts, a “maxed out” code enforcement officer and no police department, “Durham is not in a position to really devote the resources it would take to have this be a successful type of enterprise,” Nadeau said. 

Some pointed out that in surrounding areas like Brunswick, which has both a police department and a designated industrial zone, it might not be a problem, and argued those locations likely already meet local demand.

In Durham, where the planning board has dealt with complaints about a daycare or electricians opening in their neighborhoods, it’s hard enough to deal with the small businesses the town already has, resident John Simoneau said. 

“Marijuana is a gateway drug,” Neil Berry, budget committee member and resident said. “Wherever pot is, hard drugs follow. It’s a bad idea for the town.”

But Judd Grimes, owner of East Branch Farm and a supporter of allowing cultivation, manufacturing and sale of cannabis, pointed out that for many, cannabis is a medicine. 

The “gateway drug” claim is “absolutely not proven and completely offensive,” he said. 

There’s no proof crime will increase or that it will burden the town, he argued, and bringing medicine to patients and increasing jobs can only benefit the town. 

“I don’t think that there’s any way this could go bad for us,” he said. 

Allowing one use but not the other, especially after it was legalized, is like telling a farmer he can grow strawberries but can’t make jam or sell it in a store, Grimes added.

Anne Torregrossam, chair of the planning board, said she is not against the sale or processing of marijuana in general, but “I think it’s wrong for Durham because we don’t have the staff capacity or sophistication to do this well.” 

There are fire and security concerns as well, she added, and even the well-funded establishments “can make some serious and scary dangers for our town.”

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