YORK, Maine — The majority of the Board of Selectmen on Monday voted to send a petition for the legalization of marijuana in town to a public hearing at the board’s next meeting, Monday, July 28.
The motion, made by Selectman Ron Nowell and seconded by Torbert Macdonald, passed 3-2, with Selectman Jon Speers voting “yes” and board members Robert Palmer and Chairwoman Mary Andrews casting the two dissenting votes.
In sending the petition to the public hearing, the board is following the Town of York Home Rule Charter in first calling a public hearing, and then within 45 days of the hearing, calling a special general referendum to submit the question to voters.
Petition initiator David Boyer of the Marijuana Policy Project has said he wants the question to go to a vote during the November election.
“We’re happy that the town is going forward with a public hearing, letting voters decide,” Boyer said after the meeting.
Had selectmen voted against moving the petition forward, Boyer and volunteers would have worked to gather the estimated 641 signatures needed to place the question on the ballot without selectmen approval, he said.
During the meeting, Boyer, Sherry Dabiere, who presented the petition to the town clerk’s office on June 19, and resident Victoria Simon spoke in favor of the question going before voters.
“Most folks who use marijuana do so responsibly,” Simon said.
The question debated by selectmen Monday was whether the petition first needed to be vetted by town attorney Mary Costigan, as the town charter outlines the procedure for the enactment of “any lawful ordinance.”
Palmer made a motion to ask Costigan for a legal opinion before scheduling the public hearing.
Andrews agreed, saying, “I think the public has a right to know if issues need to be resolved in the petition.”
The motion was voted down 3-2 by the same majority that later voted in favor of holding the public hearing.
Nowell said the charter gives the board no choice, whether they think it’s legal or not, because it says selectmen “shall” proceed.
Speers said he was supportive of the petition, but his concern was wording within the petition that states the town of York resolves to support a change in the state law.
The petition requests an ordinance be placed before voters that, if passed, would allow in York the use and possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana by those who are at least 21. The use of marijuana in public places would be prohibited, according to organizers.
At least 100 signatures were needed, and volunteers gathered 200, according to Boyer.
The measure would remove penalties for marijuana possession, allowing individuals to possess and consume marijuana privately, according to Boyer.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a national organization, also targeted the cities of Lewiston and South Portland in laying the groundwork for statewide legalization of marijuana in November 2016.
The Marijuana Policy Project last year was among organizations that successfully led an initiative in Portland to legalize the individual possession of 2.5 ounces of pot, Boyer said.