BELFAST, Maine — Belfast has put a hold on any retail marijuana operations for at least 180 days, and perhaps longer, as it weighs how to regulate the expected industry.
The city council unanimously approved a moratorium on retail marijuana businesses, social clubs and retail growing operations during a meeting Tuesday night.
It’s a step that many Maine communities are taking in order to give municipal officials time to craft local regulations and to see what rules the state comes up with.
“We’re not trying to roll it back, we’re trying to roll it right,” said Belfast Councilor Eric Sanders, drawing chuckles from a few fellow councilors and members of the audience.
The moratorium does not affect personal use, possession or growing of marijuana for personal consumption, which are on track to become legal in Maine on Jan. 30. However, Gov. Paul LePage and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau have said they are considering a one-year delay on legalization while the state shapes public policy, such as how to use the state’s sales tax revenue.
Under the law, the state’s agriculture department has been given up to nine months to come up with state regulations surrounding retail marijuana operations and commercial cultivation, meaning they might not be adopted until October 2017 at the earliest. The city could extend the moratorium an additional 180 days after this one expires in June.
LePage and Thibodeau’s reservations go beyond retail sales. Among other issues, they worry that the law as written has flaws that, for example, would allow minors to possess some marijuana products. Their calls for a moratorium echo similar sentiments from marijuana opponents last week.
On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill that didn’t delay legalized marijuana but put off a deadline for the state to develop an oversight system for retail sales into 2018.
If Maine were to enact its own delay, that effectively would make local moratoriums moot.
More than two dozen towns across the state — Bangor, Portland and South Portland among them — have already adopted moratoriums. Some towns, including Skowhegan and Oakland, are considering prohibiting marijuana sales and social clubs.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
BDN writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.