Local regulation of marijuana establishments was the subject of a public forum in Orono last week, with the handful of residents who spoke panning the idea of allowing such establishments in town.

The rules for recreational marijuana were finally approved by the Legislature last week, two and a half years after legalization was approved by Maine voters in a referendum vote in 2016. Communities will not be required to allow marijuana sales, and numerous Maine cities and towns, including Orono, have enacted lengthy moratoriums so they could sit back and look at their options.

At the start of last week’s forum, Council Chair Cynthia Mehnert told the public that town officials have been working on Orono marijuana rules for close to 18 month and are close to getting ready to adopt regulations. The council has never taken an official stand, one way or the other, on whether they feel marijuana sales should be legal in town.

“We really want to hear from the public on where we want to be,” said Mehnert.

Planner Kyle Drexler then offered a presentation on the town’s research to date, which has included a review of communities that have allowed medical marijuana sales and site visits. He notes that are four types of establishments that would have to be considered: cultivation, product manufacturing, retail stores and testing. Town zoning ordinances would restrict where such establishments could go; for instance, cultivation would only by allowed in the forest and agricultural district. One area where a consensus seems to have been reached is to not allow sales in the village commercial district, which has schools and the town library nearby; marijuana establishments are not allowable within 1,000 feet of schools or other marijuana stores, nor withing 500 feet of a church.

Other standards would have to be met as well. Stores can only be open from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. and are limited in size to 10,000 square; marijuana plants only can be shown in signage. Steps also would be required to keep odors in check, and security measures, such as surveillance cameras would need to be in place. Waste disposal area also would have to be shielded from the public.

Following Drexler’s presentation, the forum was opened up to public comment. The seven people who spoke were universal in opposition, calling marijuana, among other things a harmful and addicting product and a mild hallucinogenic that affects judgment and accurate perceptions,. One resident said that allowing marijuana would send a message that “druggery is the way to go,” and that recreational marijuana sales in particular would convey the message that “it’s okay to do drugs.

Concerns were added about children accessing marijuana. Dr. Fredrika Smith said marijuana is a danger and poison for young people and that it can damage young brains; she added that there have been studies than marijuana users have a higher rate of schizophrenia and driving under the influence. Added fears were expressed about the effect on users of marijuana by its THC content. That compound – the psychoactive element of marijuana – is found in percentage that are triple or more what they were years ago, making the effects of marijuana much more potent.

Councilors are scheduled to again take up marijuana establishments at their July 29 meeting, although that discussion could be delayed into September. Mehnert in the meantime encouraged residents to continue to email councilors with their opinions on marijuana establishments.

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