The Orono Town Council will continue its long review of local regulation of marijuana establishments, with the possibility of the issue going to referendum early next year.

The rules for recreational marijuana were finally approved by the Legislature last month, 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.

Town officials have been working on Orono marijuana rules for nearly 18 months. The council has never taken an official stand, one way or the other, on whether they feel marijuana sales should be legal in town; the handful of people who spoke at a recent public forum on the subject were united in their opposition to marijuana establishments coming to town.

The council, which has never indicated its preference one way or the other, continued its discussion on local marijuans regulations last week. Council Chair Cynthia Mehnert said that in addition to the comments made at the forum, 43 people responded to an online survey, with 25 saying the town should not opt in. Mehnert then asked the council if they had enough information to make a decision.

Councilors Tom Perry opposed going further, although Perry said he perhaps would be willing to revisit the issue at a later date. Councilor Sam Kunz, meanwhile, said his concerns arose after medical professionals spoke out against allowing marijuana sales in town, saying the effects of the drug can be detrimental to young minds. Kunz added that he was worried about the perception people would have of Orono if marijuana sales were allowed in town.

But other councilors thought the town should continue exploring the issue, with terry greenier saying the opposition viewpoint to allowing mairjuana sales is based on “propaganda we’ve all grown up with.” He noted that alcohol use is an issue as well, yet the public perception is that it’s okay. Greenier suggested the council needed to educate itself further before making an informed decision.

Councilor Cheryl Robertson added that it would be naive to think marijuana sales were never going to happen, and that the council should continue with efforts to focus on developing an ordinance that focuses on best practices. Councilor Meaghan Gardner added that most of the comments recently received were about whether marijuana should be legalized, rather than what people thought of establishments; she thought the council should at last look at design standards and zoning.

Both Gardner and Councilor Laurier Osher said allowing sales could possibly benefit the town via new tax dollars, with Osher adding that UMaine could be on the leading edge of research should legalization continue to expand. They agreed they would like more information as well.

Councilors sent the issue back to Town Planner Kyle Drexler, who will develop a draft ordinance for the council’s purview. After review, the council will have two options: To vote either for or against the ordinance, or to send it to residents for a vote. That vote likely would come in March.

Much of the groundwork for any ordinance has been laid at previous council workshops, where a consensus seems to have been reached to not allow sales anywhere in the village commercial district, which has schools, churches and the town library nearby. Other standards have been discussed as well, such as limits on signage, size hours, and odors, as well as security.

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