Talks about what Orono should allow – if anything – once the state figures out what to do about marijuana continued last week.

Marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Maine in Nov. 2016, but the vagueness of the citizen driven initiative has left it in limbo, with communities having received no direction from lawmakers guiding them on how recreational sales should be governed. Orono has had a marijuana moratorium in place for more than two years while it waits for the state to decide what to do; that moratorium allows the town to to continue to plan and have some breathing room once lawmakers finally move forward.

Orono has not yet taken a stance on whether it plans to allow sales. Instead, it has been looking at what other communities are doing, and at the workshop, Planner Kyle Drexler and Economic Development Director discussed their recent visits to medical marijuana facilities in Brewer, Waterville and Auburn. One common theme ran through all three communities – the facilities that were discreet and blended in to their surroundings were less problematic; the more garish operations that tried to look outlandish and pushed a head shop feel were more likely to be pushing the envelope of local ordinances.

“There was a parallel between what the shops look like and how well they work with their towns,” said Milan. “The flamboyant ones have a lot of problems.” Milan did add that someone had a one time or another attempted to break in to every facility in Auburn.

Drexler said the three cities have taken varied approaches in how they regulate medical marijuana, with Brewer being the most restrictive and Waterville at the other end of the spectrum, letting the market sort out what facilities survive. Auburn has has the most robust marijuana economy, added Milan, allowing grow operations, dispensaries and caregiver. The only complaints there have been odors from grow operations, said Milan.

There was discussion about whether Orono should implement design standards, which would to a degree control how any marijuana facility would look, should the town decide to approve any operations. Abutter standards and buffer zones also were discussed. A buffer of 1,000 feet could make it difficult, if not impossible, to have operations in the town’s commercial districts such as the downtown, Park Street, and Stillwater Avenue.

It was suggested that enforcement would be easier if the own just went by zones should marijuana facilities be approved. That could put them close to schools, churches and the library, which is a point of concern. Milan said one way to approach the issue would be to have a buffer similar to the one the town currently has for bars, which have to be 300 feet away from such places.

Town Manager Sophie Wilson said the town would not have to allow all five license types for marijuana – for instance, it could choose not to deal with cultivation, which would eliminate odor complaints from neighbors.

The council was a bit split on what action it should take. Some members saw economic opportunities in allowing at least some marijuana operations in town; Councilor Tom Perry, on the other hand, said he would prefer that the town move slowly, and that should it move forward, the town should have very strict guidelines.

“It’s always easier to make (an ordinance) more liberal than more rigid,” he said.

Wilson said the council could work on shaping policy in the months ahead, get feedback from the public and draft an ordinance, but then ultimately decide they want nothing.

“It’s a very good discussion to have,” she said.

Town officials will continue the discussion on marijuana facilities at upcoming meetings.

RSU 26’s Board of Directors has already weighed in on its feelings about retail marijuana facilities, voting 3-2 recently to recommend that no such shops be allowed in the downtown. Two members wanted no commercial facilities anywhere in town.