Orono’s town councilors still haven’t decided whether to allow commercial marijuana operations in town, but they’re looking at rules they might need to have on the books if they ultimately decide to allow them.
Commercial operations would include marijuana cultivation sites, businesses that manufacture marijuana products including edibles and oils, labs that test the plants and marijuana-derived products, and retail shops.
A council committee on Thursday night heard examples of zoning ordinances they could adopt to regulate marijuana establishments as a debate played out among residents at the meeting over whether the town should allow the businesses at all.
“What I heard from the town council is we’re not interested in making a final decision yet but we would like you to create a framework to see what it looks like if we were to opt in,” said David Milan, Orono’s economic development director.
Council members asked Milan for more information about restricting commercial marijuana use near child care providers and nursery schools. They also expressed concerns about odors associated with marijuana cultivation.
“They wanted us to start visiting communities that have opted in [to allowing marijuana establishments] to see how it’s working, particularly on the medical side,” Milan said.
Over the next few months, Milan and Town Planner Kyle Drexler hope to compile their research and develop sample ordinances that address councilors’ concerns and questions. Council members would then hear from the public before deciding whether to allow any commercial marijuana operations.
Councilors got a taste of those public opinions on Thursday.
Orono resident and parent Jamie Comstock said that allowing commercial marijuana operations in town will result in unnecessary drug exposure for kids.
“This policy that we’re talking about runs incredibly counter to the family-friendly town that we’re striving to be,” she said.
But Quinn Jones, a University of Maine student, told councilors he believed allowing licensed stores would result in safe and legal use.
“If I wanted to partake in recreational use of the drug tonight, I could probably find three to five people within an hour to sell me pot, and these people aren’t regulated by the state,” he said.
Orono first established a moratorium on commercial and medical marijuana operations in October 2016, anticipating the passage of the statewide referendum legalizing recreational use of marijuana the following month. Councilors last month extended the moratorium until April 2019.
“Looking at where we are now, we’re looking at at least another extension,” Town Manager Sophie Wilson said.
While voters passed the 2016 referendum legalizing recreational use of marijuana, the state has yet to issue regulations outlining retail sales and cultivation.