Dexter council may make decision on commercial marijuana operations

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DEXTER — Earlier in the month Dexter residents voted down five non-binding advisory questions on marijuna businesses which were developed through a community task force comprised of town officials, business owners and citizens. The group held its first post-election meeting with a forum on June 25 to discuss possible next steps with about two dozen attendees present.

The town council has the voting power to make a decision on whether the community opts in or not on the several types of commercial operations.

Town Manager Trampas King said, “We have been meeting since December and we have had people come in and talk to us on the pros and cons.” He said the task force began by looking at medical marijuana dispensaries and soon group members learned about other commercial marijuana establishments.

King said the task force has held 10 meetings and looked at what other states have done since opting in for medical and non-medical marijuana businesses. He said medical marijuana has been legal in Maine for two decades and at the 2016 state referendum residents approved a question allowing for adult recreational use. The town manager said back then Dexter citizens voted “no” on the measure by an approximate 2-1 margin.

“We put these questions out there during the election,” King said, with the town ballot coinciding with the annual SAD 46 budget referendum on June 11. He said 301 Dexter voters cast referendum ballots, a turnout of 12.3 percent.

“I figured we would get a lot more,” King said.

He then went over the June 11 results: Are you in favor of the town of Dexter allowing medical marijuana dispensaries?, 152 “no” votes to 151 “yes” votes.

Are you in favor of the town of Dexter allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries?, 171 no to 132 yes.

Are you in favor of the town of Dexter allowing medical marijuana manufacturing facilities?, 156 no to 146 yes.

Are you in favor of the town of Dexter allowing recreational marijuana manufacturing facilities?, 174 no to 129 yes.

Are you in favor of the town of Dexter allowing commercial marijuana grows?, 172 no to 131 yes.

“For these results I could not recommend anything,” King said. Each question was voted down but the margins ranged from 45 votes to just one.

He said according to the Maine Municipal Association, so far only 13 of 488 Maine municipalities have opted in to allow some or all types marijuana businesses. Maine is the only legalizing state of 10 nationwide that does not provide an avenue for its local governments to receive a return on investment in the new industry and/or recoup costs.

Rep. Steven Foster, R-Dexter said legislation concerning local marijuana taxation and revenue sharing is being worked on in Augusta, with current proposals lowering the rate from 25 to 12 percent. “That has not been fully passed yet or signed,” he said.

King said another issue still to be resolved is how marijuana revenues can be banked and distributed, as financial institutions cannot handle these monies due to marijuana still being illegal at the federal level.

Members of the public mentioned their potential pros and cons on allowing commercial marijuana operations in town, such as bringing in new businesses and jobs as well as the potential for an increase in non-permitted growing and crime.

“Again this is not for us to decide, it’s the council, we just take the information to them,” King said.

“This is information for us to see what’s changed since two years ago,” he said. “By the looks I would say it did open up.”

“If I could see this was bringing substantial financial benefit to Dexter I would vote for it,” Council Vice Chair and task force member Marcia Delaware said, saying she would like to see the economic benefits before proceeding.

Delaware was asked about potential costs to the town with the implementation of commercial marijuana businesses. She mentioned more code enforcement work and an increased police presence.

King said the next step may be up to the town council. “The council could decide to opt in or they could do nothing,” he said. “It’s still up to their decision.”

Councilors are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 11 and a related item could be on the agenda once this document is finalized leading up to the next regular monthly session.

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