Phippsburg rejected proposed rules that would have allowed medical and recreational marijuana businesses in the town Saturday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

About 50 Phippsburg residents voted down a proposed rule that would have allowed medical and recreational marijuana businesses during Saturday’s annual town meeting.

Two residents spoke in opposition of the proposed rules and no one spoke in favor of them prior to the vote, taken by a show of hands.

Resident John Morse said he “would not like the town to be involved in any marijuana operations” because he believes marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the abuse of more dangerous substances.

“Marijuana isn’t a big deal, but if you start on that and get addicted, then you move onto the rest of the stuff and that’s when it’s costing the taxpayers and hospitals money to treat these things that people mostly don’t have insurance for,” said Morse. “This starts us going down a bad road and I recommend we not have anything to do with it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of people who use marijuana don’t go on to use more dangerous drugs. However, the CDC states “more research is needed to understand if marijuana is a ‘gateway drug.’

“I think there are plenty of marijuana stores in Bath,” said resident Jim Koehling. “You go there to get your groceries, you can go there to get your weed too.”

Neighboring Bath, Brunswick, Woolwich and Bowdoinham, permit any recreational cannabis businesses. In Topsham and Georgetown, recreational marijuana growing, manufacturing and testing are permitted, but retail stores aren’t allowed.

While marijuana businesses won’t be allowed in Phippsburg, residents approved an ordinance that anyone age 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or up to 5 grams of marijuana concentrate. People can also possess or grow up to three mature cannabis plants or up to 12 immature plants and unlimited seedlings for personal use, falling in line with state law. However, those plants must sit 20 feet back from property lines and cannot be visible from a public road.

Phippsburg’s new $2.6 million budget was approved Saturday. Town administrators suspect the new budget won’t drastically increase the town’s property tax rate. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Planning Board Chair Marie Varian said the board drafted the marijuana rules to gauge if people were interested in allowing marijuana businesses. She said if people ask for them later, the board can reintroduce the rules to be voted on at a future town meeting.

“There was no big push from the public to opt in, but as time went on, it seemed more people were wondering why we couldn’t do that,” Varian told The Times Record last month. “The planning board is neutral and we tried to come up with ordinances that would allow what the state allows.”

Although Mainers voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, the state requires each municipality to opt-in by drafting and approving their own regulations for recreational marijuana use and business.

$2.6 million budget approved

The town’s proposed $2.6 million budget was passed, with three minor increases added during the town meeting.

The new budget is about $887,600 — 3.54%, higher than last year’s — and though spending is up, Town Clerk Lisa Wallace said she doesn’t expect a drastic change in the town’s tax rate, which now sits at $9.14 per $1,000 of valuation. This means a Phippsburg resident with a home valued at $200,000 received a $1,828 property tax bill this year.

The new property tax rate will be determined in mid-October when administrators perform the tax commitment, which is when a tax assessor calculates the tax rate for residents based on the municipal, county and school budgets.

The largest increases in the budget include a $60,000 jump to the town’s transfer station budget to renew trash removal and recycling contracts and a $36,400 increase to cover salary raises for four town employee employees.

Those increases are offset by a $25,000 decrease in winter roads, a product of the mild winter that required less plowing, salting and sanding.

Similarly, the town’s fire and police budgets decreased by $10,000 and $11,000, respectively. The decrease comes from unspent funding from last year, allowing the town to decrease this year’s allocation.

Susan Levene, who ran unopposed, was elected to Phippsburg’s board of selectmen at the annual town meeting Saturday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Phippsburg’s new selectman

Phippsburg residents also approved Susan Levene to serve a three-year term as the town’s newest selectman. Levene ran unopposed to claim the position left when Michael Young’s term expired.

Levene, who previously served on the town’s budget committee for four years, said she plans to bring her budgeting skills to her job as selectman to help keep expenses low for the town and, subsequently, taxpayers.

“I’m really excited to serve the town,” said Levene. “I love living here and I hope to make everything run smoothly.”

As a retired information technology and software engineer, Levene said she also hopes to update the town’s website to allow easier access to public information and online services for residents.

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