Potential new rules surrounding marijuana in Freeport are up in the air due to divisions over the issue within the town council.

The town is considering whether to allow both recreational and medicinal marijuana growth and manufacturing, but not retail. Under Maine law, municipalities can choose to opt-in to allow marijuana businesses within their community. Freeport currently has two medical marijuana cultivation facilities, which began business in town before the opt-in laws went into effect.

In a March, cultivator David Stephenson said he will likely relocate unless Freeport makes its own rules concerning marijuana growth and cultivation.

Councilors Jake Danielle and Tawni Whitney said on Tuesday that they would not vote in favor of setting rules if the process moved forward. Councilor Edward Bradley said he would likely not as well.

Whitney said that after reviewing the community surveys and value charts associated with the downtown revisioning project, she disagrees strongly with establishing any rules to allow marijuana in town.

“I don’t think this is the direction that Freeport wants to go at a pivotal time where we are coming together as a community more than we ever have,” Whitney said.

Danielle said that considering the opportunity cost of the buildings with which the two medical grow houses are currently operating, he would vote no.

“We are in a good economic situation where we do have things that might take those spots,” Danielle said.

Councilors Chip Lawrence, Doug Reighley and Chairperson John Egan spoke in favor of moving forward to establish rules.

Lawrence said that he would vote yes because he does not want to push two more businesses out of town since Freeport is already having trouble filling Main Street.

“If we limit it to those two – great,” Lawrence said. “Maybe it’s time that Freeport decide whether: do we want to be a business town? Or do we just want to go be a quiet little town like Bath or Wiscasset?”

Councilor Dan Piltch, who was absent at Tuesday’s meeting, will likely be the deciding voice in whether Freeport moves forward with establishing the rules. Egan said that he plans to check in with Piltch on Monday.

CEO of Maine Cannabis Exchange Peter Ingram, who operates one of the cultivation facilities in Freeport, said in an interview that although his medical Freeport facility will likely stay put, if rules are not established, he will have to expand into a different town to grow for the recreational market.

Ingram said that he thinks there are large misconceptions that are driving people to fear opting-in to recreational policies. According to Ingram, Freeport residents don’t realize that cultivation and manufacturing is already happening in town, and that the community would likely not notice the difference if the two operations began growing for recreational markets.

“The other misconception is that when people hear adult-use, I think a lot of people fear for the safety and security of the community and potentially the children and the youth of the community,” Ingram said. “The big misconception there is that the adult-use program is actually much safer and more secure than the current medical program that’s allowed in Freeport.”

Ingram said that the recreational program is much stricter in tracking and tracing products, there is a testing requirement that doesn’t exist in medical, and there is an increased level of security and surveillance for facilities growing recreationally.

In December, the Portland Press Herald reported that marijuana is Maine’s most valuable crop, stating that 2020 sales totaled $266.2 million, up from $109.2 million in 2019.

For comparison, in 2019 total sales for potatoes — a crop often associated with Maine — came in at $184.1 million.

According to the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy website, there are around 80 municipalities in Maine that have opted-in in some form for recreational marijuana. The website points out, however, municipalities are not required to notify the office, so the number could vary. Local examples of municipalities that have chosen to opt-in include Bath and Brunswick.

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