FRANKLIN — During its public hearing last Thursday, the Planning Board decided to extend the period for public comment regarding the town’s proposed medical marijuana ordinance.
Written comments will be accepted until 6:30 p.m. on March 11. The board will then hold a meeting to discuss public input. Meeting information is available on the town’s Facebook page.
Discussion over regulations in the ordinance, such as its setback requirements, prompted Chairman Brian Abbott to suggest the board take the extra time to hear from the public to “take a look at some of the issues within this ordinance,” before making its final decision whether to recommend the ordinance to the Board of Selectmen.
If recommended, the ordinance will only need a simple majority to pass when it goes before voters. Without, it will need a two-thirds majority. Copies of the ordinance are available at the town office.
At the public hearing, the board went through the 23-page document. Attorney Patrick Lyons attended via Zoom videoconferencing to answer board members’ legal questions.
Discussion ensued regarding the ordinance’s setback rules, one of which states that “Any building or structure in which a medical marijuana establishment is located shall be set back a minimum of 200 feet from any property line or public road.”
One resident in attendance voiced concern with the setback regulation. He said he recently passed a state inspection for his cultivation facility, but it does not comply with the town’s proposed 200-foot setback.
The proposed setback also raised concern for how medical marijuana business owners would attract customers driving by, with the question raised, “If [customers] can’t see me, how do they know where they’re going?”
Other areas of concern were the ordinance’s lighting and security requirements.
Lyons’ sole recommendation to the board was to remove a residency requirement listed in the draft ordinance.
Otherwise, he said the ordinance “is compliant with state law.”
Lyons explained that the residency requirements listed in state statutes “have been challenged as being unconstitutional.”
“In all likelihood it is unconstitutional,” he said.
“In effect, it creates a prohibition on out-of-state individuals or businesses from conducting this type of business in Maine and that has been found to be a violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause.”
Removing the requirement would be “the safest thing and easiest thing for the town to do,” Lyons said, adding that doing so would help “avoid any potential for a lawsuit, or at the very least, having to amend [the ordinance] at some point” to comply with potentially revised state statutes. Abbott said it takes about nine weeks to amend an ordinance.
Lyons noted that if the state does not change its residency requirements, they will still be enforceable at the local level without being explicitly written in the ordinance.
Those in favor of the residency requirement said it would help support local medical marijuana businesses.
At a special meeting last year, voters approved the establishment of medical marijuana retail stores and cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities in town. Since then, the Planning Board has been working on a draft of its medical marijuana ordinance.