BELFAST, Maine — Belfast is considering a moratorium on retail marijuana to give city officials time to craft local rules and regulations around its sale and use in social clubs.
The council passed a first reading of a proposed 180-day moratorium Tuesday night. After one more reading, scheduled for Jan. 3, the council will hold a public hearing on the proposal before deciding whether to approve it. If the moratorium passes, it would begin immediately.
“This moratorium is not intended to be a statement of the council saying this act is a good idea or a bad idea,” Wayne Marshall, Belfast’s city planner, told the council this week.
Maine voters approved marijuana legalization at the polls during the Nov. 8 election. A recount effort launched by opponents was dropped last weekend, clearing way for the measure to become law. The law also gives individual municipalities the right to locally regulate marijuana activities and retail cultivation, or to ban sales, cultivation and social clubs.
Belfast’s moratorium closely mirrors one adopted by Portland, Marshall said.
“This version, I thought was very straightforward and addressed all the issues at hand,” Marshall said of Belfast’s proposal. While the moratorium is in place, it bars any marijuana retail shops or social clubs from opening in the city. The council can choose to repeal the moratorium before the 180 days are up if it irons out regulations ahead of that deadline.
The moratorium gives the town time to see what regulations the state’s agriculture department creates surrounding marijuana sales before deciding what restrictions to place locally — which could range from zoning requirements or limited hours of operation to an outright ban.
The department has been given up to 9 months to come up with state regulations, meaning they might not be adopted until October of 2017 at the earliest, Marshall said. If it does take that long, the city could be forced to extend the moratorium when the first 180 days expire in June 2017.
“I’m concerned about the social clubs, I’m concerned about the Harborwalk and the effects on small businesses,” Belfast Councilor Eric Sanders said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilor Michael Hurley said he’s worried about the effect odors emanating from a marijuana social club might have on nearby businesses.
At least two dozen towns across the state have already adopted moratoriums Some towns, including Skowhegan and Oakland, are considering prohibiting marijuana sales and social clubs. Towns may not prohibit use or cultivation of marijuana in private residences.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.