December 05, 2019
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Southwest Harbor voters ‘clearly divided’ over opening up to recreational marijuana

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
In this Dec. 13, 2017, file photo, a marijuana plant grows under artificial light at an indoor facility in Portland.

After local voters this month expressed informal support — though not by much — for allowing cultivation, processing and retail sales of recreational marijuana in Southwest Harbor, town officials say they will continue to explore possible rules for regulating the industry.

In a series of straw polls held in conjunction with the election on Nov. 5, voters in Southwest Harbor indicated they are willing to let retail marijuana businesses take root in town — but the margins of support were not overwhelming. They favored allowing retail recreational marijuana sales by a 188-176 vote, cultivation facilities by a 185-180 vote and manufacturing of processed marijuana products by a 191-174 vote.

A question on whether local voters would allow a potency testing facility to operate in Southwest Harbor — which, according to state law, would have to be done by an entity other than growers, retailers or processors — was answered with 182-to-182 tie.

For Lydia Goetze, chairman of the town’s Select Board, the results show that local residents are “clearly divided” on the issue.

The voting margins “are not big enough to give us a clear sense of what the public thinks,” Goetze said last week. “We need more information.”

Voters seemed to be more clearly in favor of allowing retail sales of medical marijuana, which has to be prescribed by a doctor. In a separate straw poll question, voters supported that 212 to 152.

Goetze said the board discussed the straw poll results on Nov. 12, and decided to form a committee to look further into what sort of rules the town may want to adopt. Justin VanDongen, Southwest Harbor’s town manager, will compile a list of names of people interested in the topic — residents, business owners, the police chief and maybe others — and submit them to the board for approval, she said.

“It’s another way to get public input,” Goetze said, adding that she expects the town to hold additional public informational meetings on the topic as the committee does its work.

VanDongen said the proposal likely will include zoning changes, to allow cultivation and processing activities in Southwest Harbor, as well as annual licensing requirements for growers, processors and retailers. He said that any ordinance drafted by town officials to allow recreational marijuana businesses in town would have to be approved by voters before it goes into effect.

The town manager said he expects to submit a list of names of potential committee members to the Select Board when it meets Nov. 26. He said voters likely will get a chance to vote on any proposals the committee might propose at Southwest Harbor’s annual town meeting in May.

 



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