HOULTON, Maine — Several citizens came before the Town Council on Monday, July 10, to request that residents be allowed to vote on whether to approve an ordinance that would allow commercial/retail recreational marijuana cultivation and sales within the community.
On Feb. 21, council members unanimously approved an ordinance aimed at welcoming potential marijuana businesses to the community. This came after a statewide citizen-led effort made recreational marijuana legal in Maine. Such businesses are still prohibited until at least February 2018, however, while the state develops regulations to implement the new law.
A number of other Aroostook County towns have adopted moratoriums to prevent retail marijuana establishments from opening in their communities.
Lynn Weston of Houlton was the first to ask councilors on Monday night if they were aware that communities were allowed to prohibit such retail establishments from being started. She wanted to know why the idea was never discussed.
Sue Tortello, another Houlton resident, said she believed that the council has assumed that residents were in favor of such establishments.
“People haven’t had a chance to weigh in on this, which is driving controversy and discussion around it,” she said “At the next meeting, you plan to repeal the old original recreational marijuana ordinance and will consider revisions. I’d suggest that instead of adopting revisions, it’s a good opportunity to find out what townspeople feel about it. You should put it out for a vote during November elections.”
Tortello said that the town had plenty of time to take such action, since the law does not go into effect until February 2018.
“If it passes and you decide you want it to happen, you’ve already got the revisions in place and you can adopt the ordinance at that time. If it is turned down, you have a good idea of where people stand.”
Francis Fitzpatrick of Houlton also echoed Tortello’s comments, saying that the voters would “tell you what they want.”
Under the proposed ordinance, the establishment of commercial or retail marijuana facilities would require review by the council and a mandatory public hearing.
Such facilities only would be allowed in the airport or industrial zones or the “area adjacent to Houlton International Airport, the international border, south of Interstate 95 and the U.S. Customs loop.”
No such businesses would be allowed within drug free safe zones or within 500 feet of a pre-existing private or public school, daycare facility, town park or house of public worship.
The ordinance also addresses security requirements that must be maintained at any such facilities. A commercial or retail marijuana establishment would have to include, at a minimum, lockable doors and windows, including intrusion alarms with audible and police notification components that send an alert directly to or through a second party to the Houlton Police Department. Such establishments also would be required to have exterior security lighting consisting of spot lights with motion sensors covering the full perimeter of the facility, and video surveillance capable of covering the entire outside perimeter, as well as the interior and all plants cultivated within the facility. The video surveillance system must be operating continuously and the surveillance kept for a minimum duration of 90 days.
Councilor Sue Waite-York said she voted to support the ordinance in order to bring new businesses to town.
“I was looking at the ordinance with more of a business mind,” she said. “Since this was approved by the state, we are going to regulate it and thus bring new income into the community and allow us to be able to control it. Everyone has different ways to generate income. I am still for the idea of regulating this and I think it will bring income here. Lots of people don’t understand it, and there is misinformation out there.”
Waite-York said she would consider going to the people and putting the issue out to vote.
Councilor Rosa McNally thanked the citizens for coming forward. She also said she felt it was a good idea to put the matter out to vote.
The council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance on July 24.