Woolwich residents got to weigh in by teleconference July 22 on proposed marijuana ordinances that address recreational marijuana sales, manufacturing of cannabis products, marijuana cultivation and testing facilities. The rules will be voted on separately at the annual town meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 22.
Bill Longley of the marijuana committee said voters could vote for all, several, or none of the ordinances. The committee spent many hours coming up with its proposals. Although members were not always in full agreement, they worked on a consensus basis, he added.
Any one of the proposed marijuana ordinances can be amended at the town meeting. “We were told by the town attorney that could be done as long as the amendments are within the scope of the ordinance,” explained Selectman and State 53 Rep. Allison Hepler.
The proposed provisions regulating the sale of recreational marijuana include limiting the number of retail stores to three and requiring them to be on Route 1, from the Sagadahoc Bridge to the Taste of Maine Restaurant. Applications will be reviewed first come, first served. The town’s code enforcement officer would be responsible for the initial investigation of applications, which would then be subject to site plan review and approval from the planning board.
The proposed ordinance on cannabis cultivation would limit marijuana growing to the town’s “rural” and “general-purpose” zones, restricting it from Nequasset Road or near Woolwich Central and Chop Point schools. The ordinance allows up to 10,000 square feet of commercial cannabis growing indoors or outdoors, or a combination of the two. There are no limits on the number of marijuana cultivation licenses.
The other two ordinances address manufacturing of cannabis products, and establishment of marijuana testing facilities. They would be permitted in the general-purpose zones, also with no limits placed on the number of licenses. Due to the associated costs, Longley doubted anyone would be interested in operating a cannabis testing facility in town.
The committee recommended the application fees for all four licenses be the same: $500 for the initial application with licenses being renewed annually for $250.
Select Board Chairman David King Sr. felt the fees should be $1,000 for an initial application and $750 for license renewals. “I think that’s very reasonable considering the time the town will have to devote to these applications,” he commented.
Selectman Allen Greene emphasized getting any one of the licenses wouldn’t be an easy process. Before seeking town approval, applicants must get a conditional license from the state. “After an applicant gets their town approval, they’re then required to return again to the state for final approval before they can start,” he explained.
Greene was part of a five-member committee charged with drafting the ordinances. Along with Longley, the other committee members were Sayra Small, Jennifer Rich-Smith, Tom Stoner and alternates Barbara Sawhill and Susan Mikesell.
During the hearing, Rich-Smith warned current zoning would allow commercial cannabis growing close to or possibly within residential neighborhoods. Stoner shared a list of concerns. He began by asking why the hearing was being held by teleconference and not outdoors as first suggested. Both Rich-Smith and Stoner stressed the committee was not unanimous about putting forth these ordinances.
The select board initially planned to hold the hearing outdoors but switched to a teleconference meeting via Zoom which originated from the town office hearing room. Residents could log on from home and ask questions. Questions could also be texted, or emailed to the select board. The hearing lasted about 80 minutes, a video recording of it will be posted on the town’s website and Facebook page.
On Nov. 8, 2016, Maine voters approved a referendum to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana; the state legislature has yet to set forth standards for the marijuana industry including guidelines for selling marijuana for recreational use.
Find the full text of Woolwich’s proposed marijuana-related ordinances on the town’s website. Each will be voted on separately at the annual town meeting to be held outdoors at the municipal building on Nequasset Road.