Dexter councilors approve emergency moratorium on retail recreational marijuana

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DEXTER — During the November 2016 election Maine residents approved a referendum concerning the possession and use of marijuana by those 21 and older which also allows for the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing and sale of marijuana and products subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance. In the year since the vote, town officials across the state and the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) have been examining what the referendum means, how the Maine Legislature is responding and what individual communities can do with local ordinances concerning both retail marijuana establishments and social clubs.

Communities have the ability to opt out of the retail aspect of recreational marijuana — residents can still use recreational and medicinal marijuana within the law — and the town of Dexter now has an emergency moratorium ordinance regarding retail recreational marijuana in place for 60 days through March 12.

“The document that you are looking at is a document I developed working with MMA’s moratorium model,” Town Manager Jim Chandler said before the town council’s vote during a Jan. 11 meeting. He said the emergency moratorium ordinance has been reviewed by Dexter’s legal counsel, and is similar to what has been passed by other communities in the state.

“It would have immediate effect upon your vote and it would last 60 days,” Chandler said, starting the following day on Jan. 12 and running through March 12.

The town manager said the state legislature is working on language concerning retail recreational marijuana, and having a moratorium in Dexter allows the community to have more time while state officials continue their work. “If the state doesn’t get something done before Feb. 1 this would allow us to protect ourselves from that,” Chandler said.

“I think we should do this now before the state and federal government does something so we don’t open ourselves up,” Councilor Sharon Grant said.

Councilor Marcia Delaware wondered if the emergency moratorium would start the planning board to work on something more permanent, such as in the land use ordinances. “I would like to see them get started with this passage,” she said, before receiving an affirmative answer to her question.

Chandler also presented the council with another moratorium ordinance on retail recreational marijuana. “This is a first reading and something you would take up at your next meeting,” he said. This moratorium, if approved, would be in place for 180 days such as the time of the next council meeting on Feb. 8 through Sept. 6. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the moratorium ordinance at the Feb. 8 session of the town council.

Both the emergency moratorium and proposed moratorium ordinances state that on the referendum question in November 2016, 57 percent of Dexter voters were against the question to indicate there is community support for what is being proposed.

In other business, at the November 2017 referendum residents approved a non-binding question asking if they favored the town opening public ways to the operation of ATVs via a vote of 400 to 393. In December Chandler proposed creating a task force to help the council research what town roads may be opened up to ATVs, with the intention of helping community businesses and promoting economic development.

Town Clerk Kim Hughes said four applications for the task force have been received so far. “We don’t have any against and we could use some more business owners,” she said.

Chandler said the task force would be made up of several councilors, citizens both in favor and against opening up roads to ATVs and business owners, with 11 members mentioned as a number for the group. The town manager said when nine members are ready to serve the task force would be brought before the council for a formal vote.

“Hopefully by the next meeting, so you get to appoint those folks and they get rolling,” he said. Chandler said the task force would ideally wrap up its work by the middle of the summer.

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