Ken Lemont, chairman of the Kittery Town Council, addresses questions after the public comment portion of Monday night's meeting. Credit: Shawn St. Hilaire | Seacoast Online

KITTERY, Maine — The Town Council voted unanimously Aug. 27 to place a non-binding referendum question on the November ballot gauging voter interest in having retail marijuana stores in the town’s commercial districts.

And while all councilors felt it was the proper next step in navigating the landscape of new marijuana laws in Maine, Town Council Chairman Ken Lemont felt strongly he did not want to sell the town on the falsehood that retail stores would bring financial benefit to the municipality. Following several debates in the state Legislature, it’s been determined towns will not receive portions of sales or excise tax from adult-use retail operations, a reversal of the state referendum approved in 2016. Instead, revenue will go to the state.

Lemont, a former state senator and representative, said he had a “real problem” with the idea of “home rule and zero revenue.”

But despite Lemont’s concerns, councilors passed 7-0 a single question that should give the town a more concise picture on voters’ comfort level with retail marijuana establishments. On Nov. 6, voters will answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to, “Should the town of Kittery allow a limited number of non-medical adult use marijuana retail stores in the town’s commercial zones?”

Maine voters approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in November 2016 by a slim majority, but Kittery voters expressed their support with 3,448 to 2,171. Current law allows cities and towns to determine if they want to allow retail recreational marijuana grow facilities, manufacturing, and retail stores in their communities, but does not allow discretion over personal marijuana use.

Councilor Gary Beers raised the idea of a non-binding question at a July Town Council meeting, noting the council previously opted last year to leave language in the town code that prohibited such establishments. Beers said the council “needs to listen to the will of the community and be responsive to what they have to say.”

“I agree that there should be a question on the ballot in November to further clarify what this community wants in terms of recreational marijuana,” said Councilor Matt Brock.

“People need to understand what we’ll get and not get,” he said. “This is not a money maker for the town. Having said that, people in this town did vote a clear majority that they wanted legalization, and this is a further question.”

Brock said he supported a single, simple question on the ballot, which if favored by voters, would ultimately open a public process to determine the town’s next steps.

Pro-marijuana advocate and Kittery resident Gerry Burns helped Town Manager Kendra Amaral draft some of the potential questions presented to the Town Council. During his remarks Monday evening, he said, “Change is never easy and this is a hot-button topic obviously. If we can all proceed in a logical, respectful manner, that’s the way to go.”

Burns said he supported the ballot measure and asked the Town Council to “embrace the democratic process to see how the town goes forward with this subject.” He felt there should be more than one question, though; one addressing “public facing” operations such as stores, and another addressing “non-public facing” facilities for cultivation and manufacturing.

He encouraged the Town Council to leave the concept of social clubs out entirely, noting they come with a “negative connotation” and are not currently allowed at the state level. He felt the mention of social clubs could scare voters from the overall question.

Lemont also supported the notion of having more than one question on the ballot because “cultivation, manufacturing and testing is a big part of this industry. It’s kind of hidden, it’s not a storefront. I think we ought to discuss or give the voters an opportunity to weigh-in on both of those issues.”

Expressing his frustration with the state’s decision to funnel all potential revenue to the state itself, Lemont felt the ballot question should let voters know there is no revenue to be had for the town of Kittery from recreational marijuana stores.

“I don’t want to sell something in this community thinking it’s going to be a financial landfall,” he said. “It’s not going to be.”

Councilor Jeff Pelletier stressed the importance of having “limited number” and “commercial zones” included in the question’s wording, to make it clear to voters there won’t be “20 pot shops throughout town.” The potential locations would also be limited to the C1, C2 and C3 commercial zone districts.

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