AUBURN — City officials are keeping an open mind when it comes to recreational marijuana, even as the state Legislature moves to delay implementation of large sections of the bill passed in November. 

At a City Council workshop Monday, councilors looked to stay ahead of the state regulatory process by looking at the city’s options for when cultivation, retail and social club facilities become legal. 

A majority of the council was in favor of letting Auburn remain open to the potential economic benefit of such businesses. 

Auburn, unlike other municipalities, has not passed a moratorium to ban retail marijuana establishments and social clubs until the proper state regulations are in place. 

However, if passed, the Legislature would delay until February 2018 many of the provisions of the bill concerning retail establishments and commercial cultivation in Maine. 

Councilor James Pross said that with Auburn’s huge agricultural zone — roughly 40 percent of the city’s land mass — there is a big potential for cultivation businesses. 

“We’re uniquely positioned,” he said. “Let’s try to advocate that position with the state.”  

Eric Cousens, the deputy director of economic and community development, recognized the council’s support for looking at the potential economic benefit from the marijuana bill. 

He said during the meeting that he was looking to the council for direction on potential local regulations.

He presented the council with potential zoning standards and restrictions, which would prohibit such businesses from being established in drug-free zones like schools and “safe zones,” which are determined by the City Council.  

Pross and Mayor Jonathan LaBonte advocated for throwing out the current safe zones as part of the effort to remain open to recreational marijuana businesses. 

LaBonte said he “didn’t want to be a community to throw up roadblocks,” when it came to regulating the businesses.

Cousens said the city could use any or none of the safe zone recommendations, which create 1,000-foot buffers where trafficking offenses are enforceable by police.

Police Lt. Tim Cougle said those safe zones could include areas near churches and recreational sites.  

At the end of January, adults will be allowed to possess up to two and a half ounces of marijuana for recreational purposes and may cultivate up to six mature plants at a time. 

This is the second recent workshop held by the City Council to discuss the recreational marijuana bill.

Acting City Manager Denis D’Auteuil said Monday that the council had a workshop in December after the referendum was passed, “when things became real.” He said Monday’s meeting was designed to keep councilors updated on state proceedings, and to receive direction in order to have an ordinance in place for when state laws eventually take effect. 

According to D’Auteuil’s memo to the council, staff has been working on location criteria for potential businesses as well as other issues that should be considered in drafting the local ordinances regarding recreational marijuana.

In the meantime, he said, city staff has been receiving training regarding the state process, and what it could mean locally. 

Cousens said that as the state process moves ahead, the Auburn Planning Board will recommend zoning regulations, which would be forwarded to the council. 

Earlier in January, the Lewiston City Council approved a temporary ban on retail marijuana establishments until the state completes the regulatory process, which is expected to take at least nine months.

Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett said the provision would be nulled once the state completes its regulatory process. 

Councilor Andrew Titus also had concern for the broad safe zone areas, which he said would “make it pretty hard to have retail marijuana in Auburn.”

“It looks like we’re trying to be very restrictive,” he said, referring to the potential zones.

Titus said part of the city process should also include decisions on licensing fees for marijuana operations. He said he still has reservations on the social club aspect of the bill.  

Auburn council to adopt sex offender residency restrictions

The Auburn City Council will move forward with plans to adopt restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live in the city. 

The residency restrictions are based on state of Maine guidelines, which would prohibit sex offenders convicted of offenses against persons under 14 at the time of the offense from living in designated areas. 

Acting City Manager Denis D’Auteuil said Monday that councilors had been surprised during past discussions that the city did not already have the regulations in place. 

Auburn Police Chief Phillip Crowell said there are 52 sex offenders in the city, 25 of whom qualify for the residency restrictions. He said 14 reside within the proposed residency restrictions, but would be grandfathered until moving from that residence.

Designated areas include all public and private schools in Auburn, as well as municipal or state properties used for parks or recreation. 

According to the guidelines, offenders must live at least 750 feet from a designated area. 

The issue will be placed on an upcoming City Council agenda. 

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