Woolwich passes marijuana ordinances

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 11:15am

    Woolwich voters passed ordinances permitting the future cultivation and recreational sale of marijuana and the select board’s proposed 2020-2021 budget at an open-air town meeting Saturday. The meeting attracted about 200 voters who met for two hours under a sunny sky on the lawn next door to the municipal building. John Chapman moderated the meeting which was broadcast live on the radio for residents who wanted to attend but remain in their vehicles.

    The longest discussion was on the four marijuana-related ordinances – all of which passed by written ballot by more than a 2-1 margin.

    The ordinance allowing the future sale of recreation marijuana passed 136-51. It limits the number of cannabis retail stores to three requiring them to be on Route 1 on the stretch of highway from the Sagadahoc Bridge to the Taste of Maine Restaurant.

    The cannabis cultivation ordinance voters approved limits marijuana growing to the town’s “rural” and “general-purpose” zones allowing up to 10,000 square feet of commercial cannabis growing indoors or outdoors, or a combination of the two. No limits are placed on the number of growers. The ordinance, however, restricts marijuana cultivation from Nequasset Road or near schools. It passed by the largest margin, 140 to 46.

    During discussion of the marijuana ordinances Selectmen’s Chair David King Sr. motioned to double the town’s application fees from $500 to $1,000. The motion passed resoundingly in a show of hands.

    Controversy arose later when Jennifer Rich-Smith of the marijuana committee was prevented from introducing amendments addressing proposed land use changes. She warned that  residential zones abutting rural ones could be impacted by future marijuana growing. Rich-Smith said she’d been assured by town officials, amendments could be discussed and made at town meeting.

    Tom Stoner, another member of the committee, said due to conflicting advice he too was confused when marijuana-related amendments were to be proposed.

    Chapman laid his gavel aside turning to King for clarification. King explained the town attorney had advised the select board any one of the four marijuana articles could be amended at town meeting but only if the amendments were within the scope of the proposed ordinances. King added the time to have offered amendments was when the ordinances were under consideration and before the vote was taken.

    Land use ordinances couldn’t be amended at the town meeting, added King. “You’ll need to take those to the planning board for consideration,” he responded to Rich-Smith. King added these could be debated at a future town meeting. The town attorney was present for the discussion of the marijuana ordinances but not called upon. She left before the land use article came up for discussion.

    Voters approved a request by the ambulance department to begin charging patients non-transport fees of $75 (after three calls in any six-month period) and $150 for on-scene care with medication.

    Without discussion, they raised $718,587 for highways and bridges, $144,229 for the fire department, $206,292 for ambulance services and $202,193 for curbside trash and recycling collection.

    Voters authorized the select board to take up to $50,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance to use in the event of a state or federally declared emergency or disaster. They raised $56,832 for continued community membership in Patten Free Library of Bath and $20,642 for contributions to nonprofits  including $5,000 to continue the Maine Maritime Boat Building Program at Woolwich Central School.

    Among the new articles passed was a $1,500 appropriation for maintenance and repair of the outhouse at Nequasset park.

    At the meeting’s start, Selectmen Allison Hepler and Jason Shaw presented the 2020 Spirit of America award to Barbara Richards for her many years of service to the garden club. Richards and other volunteers planted and maintained gardens at Nequasset meetinghouse, the town office and Woolwich Historical Society museum.

    Shaw noted the COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges the last six months. On behalf of the select board he thanked Town Administrator Kim Dalton and the town office staff for their hard work and perseverance. He also thanked the men and women who serve as first responders along with residents who volunteer their time to serve on committees.

    “I also want to thank each and every one of you for turning out this morning for our town meeting,” he said.

    As a precaution, town officials asked residents to bring their own chairs to the meeting and encouraged attendees to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Microphones were sanitized after each use and bottles of hand sanitizer were available.