BANGOR — Marijuana-related retailers, residents and city officials sparred Monday night over the amount of regulation Bangor should impose on recreational cannabis shops and social clubs.
City councilors have been reviewing possible changes to the city’s land development code standards that would dictate the way the substance is used or sold in the city.
Maine voters approved a referendum on Nov. 8 legalizing the recreational use and growing of marijuana for adults 21 and over. On Nov. 1, the city council enacted a six-month ban on retail marijuana sales, but Gov. Paul LePage signed a moratorium in January to delay provisions of the law until February 2018.
Possessing and growing marijuana for recreational use now is legal under Maine law, but buying or selling it is not — yet. Medical marijuana policy hasn’t changed. During a meeting last week, councilors discussed allowing retail marijuana sales in Bangor while banning social clubs.
City councilors did not say Monday night what regulations they supported or didn’t support, saying it was early on in the process and they were soliciting feedback and information.
City officials including Bangor’s Health and Community Services Director Patty Hamilton and Police Chief Mark Hathaway argued there were safety issues involved with the new recreational marijuana law. Others in attendance disagreed.
“This fear-mongering is, in my view, borderline obscene,” said Christopher Ruhlin, owner of the Herbal Tea and Tobacco smoke shop in downtown Bangor, which sells marijuana pipes. He and a representative from medicinal marijuana provider Timberland Herbal Connections on State Street, as well as a Clifton resident, all argued in favor of retail shops and social clubs.
“We have a system right now that wants to villainize a substance that is safer by every scientific measure than alcohol. This is undisputed,” Ruhlin said. “Do we want to be a city that makes our decisions based on science or facts or do we want to make decisions based on fear-mongering?”
Hathaway said he was not very concerned about retail shops but feared people driving home from social clubs while high would add to the road hazards caused by motorists driving drunk or those distracted by their phones. He added that under the current reading of the marijuana law, the same penalties are not in place for social clubs selling marijuana to minors as there are for restaurants and bars selling alcohol to minors.
“I’m concerned that if we do allow social clubs we will probably or most likely be struggling with another set of concerns and that is going to be the impact of folks who have consumed cannabis at a club and now are on our roadways,” Hathaway said. “First alcohol, then distracted driving and now another complication to the safety of our roadways.”
Hamilton said she was concerned about the health impacts marijuana retail shops and social clubs would have on the community.
Hamilton said marijuana is responsible for many teens being admitted to hospitals in the state, many cannabis products are targeted to youth, and exposure and normalization of the substance could prompt some kids to try it. She also said problems on the road in Colorado stem from motorists who have consumed both marijuana and alcohol. She said the City Council should think about creating regulations like THC limits, banning certain types of edibles and preventing marketing to children.
Ruhlin said he would be OK with regulations safeguarding marketing to children. But he said adults like candy and chocolate as well and denied the assumption that those products were being targeted to children. He also said there are ride service providers being created that will transport people to social clubs, keeping people off the roads.