Cars roll by on East Grand Avenue in Old Orchard Beach in this BDN file photo.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — The town has heard from people on both side of the debate regarding a proposed prohibition on recreational marijuana retail businesses.

Maine voters approved recreational marijuana use in November 2016, but the state has not yet approved regulations for its sale. Personal recreational use of marijuana is legal in the state, but the sale of it won’t be legal until the state establishes commercial laws for marijuana, which is expected to happen in 2018.

Without these rules in place, municipalities don’t know how such retail operations are going to be allowed to operate, and the Maine Municipal Association has advised municipalities to take a proactive approach by either adopting a prohibition ordinance or a moratorium, according to Town Manager Larry Mead.

Mead is recommending the town approve an ordinance prohibiting retail marijuana stores, retail marijuana products manufacturing facilities, retail marijuana testing facilities and retail marijuana social clubs.

The Town Council will vote on Jan. 2 whether to approve the proposed prohibition. Should the town approve the prohibition, it would stay in place unless repealed at a further date by the Town Council.

Mead said he was in favor of a prohibition ordinance instead of a moratorium which would need to be reestablished every 180 days. Mead said the intention of a moratorium is to allow time for the town to work on a proposed ordinance, and he believes should the town decide to allow marijuana retail businesses, it should wait until after the state establishes rules before working on an ordinance to regulate such businesses.

Mead said the proposed prohibition would allow the town to decide, after the state has enacted rules regulating retail marijuana, whether it wanted to allow retail marijuana businesses in town, in which case a new ordinance could be drafted.

A few people voiced their opinion on the proposed ordinance at a public hearing Tuesday night, and the town also received input prior to the meeting from some residents.

Planning Board Chairwoman Linda Mailhot sent a letter to the town stating her support of a prohibition of retail marijuana establishments. She said in the letter having such establishments in Old Orchard Beach would bring a bad element to town. She said that while marijuana is legal on the state level, it’s still illegal on the federal level, and there is an ordinance in town stating businesses will be fined if they do anything unlawful in nature.

Peter Mourmouras, who owns The Tax Doctor accounting firm in town, was in favor of a moratorium instead of a prohibition, as was his son, Tom, a managing partner of Fiscal Therapy Financial in Portland and president of and lobbyist for the Maine Commercial Grower’s Association, a nonprofit organization that provides information about and advocates for the marijuana industry.

Tom Mourmouras, who is also a member of the zoning board and comprehensive plan committee, said through his financial business he works with more than 220 clients in the marijuana business, preparing their taxes and helping them comply with state law.

Mourmouras said he was in favor of a moratorium instead of a prohibition ordinance because he thought making a decision to prohibit retail marijuana before the town knew what the state rules would be taking “an extra step” that might not put the town in the best position.

“I think we should know what the rules are in place before we make the decision whether to regulate it or prohibit it,” he said.

Mourmouras said the previous state proposal regarding marijuana laws was held up mostly due to taxation issues and loose ends regarding medical marijuana in an unregulated market. He said in the upcoming year, the legislature will suggest state regulations on retail marijuana that are very similar to what has already been proposed. He said the state should have an idea what the regulation laws will be by March or April, and he thought that was the best time for the town to decide whether to regulate retail marijuana or prohibit it.

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