ELLSWORTH — Residents of Hancock County’s unorganized territories who spoke at a Dec. 1 Hancock County Commissioners’ meeting in support of the board “opting in” to allow commercial marijuana operations in the territories may be disappointed.
Both newly sworn-in Commissioner Paul Paradis and longtime former sheriff and Commissioner Bill Clark said during the board’s first meeting of 2021 on Tuesday that they were not in favor of opting in. The board has three members.
Municipalities have to “opt in” to allow marijuana businesses, whether medical or commercial, and so do Maine counties when it comes to the unorganized territories. And then there are decisions pertaining to which types of commercial marijuana businesses will be allowed. Will a town, city or county allow retail marijuana establishments, cultivation, testing, processing or any or all of those activities that fall under the commercial marijuana umbrella?
The issue is on the board’s Jan. 19 meeting agenda.
Paradis, who served as a Bar Harbor town councilor for several years, dealt with the issue of whether to allow marijuana establishments in Bar Harbor. Such businesses have not yet been allowed in Bar Harbor.
“I think it’s a can of worms and I would be very hesitant to support any of them,” Paradis said. By them, the commissioner referred to any of the four types of marijuana businesses beyond medical marijuana. Those include retail, distribution, testing or manufacturing of marijuana. “But if there’s some question then maybe we should move ahead.”
Paradis said he also didn’t want to waste staff time if there isn’t enough support on the board to opt in.
“It should come to no surprise after 43 years in in law enforcement, including 34 years as county sheriff that I just can’t support legal distribution of drugs,” Clark said. “I think marijuana is a gateway drug.”
Clark added that if medical marijuana helps people, the “FDA should endorse it so I can go into Hannaford with a prescription and get it. It’s going to be hard for me to hear anything on the 19th that’s going to change my mind that it isn’t appropriate. It’s going to be a tough sell, especially after Commissioner Paradis’ comments and now mine.”
Clark asked Commissioner John Wombacher if the board should continue with the hearing on the 19th.
“I think we should because we’ve had a request,” Wombacher said.
“It’s not that I’m trying to squelch this,” Paradis said. “Commissioner Wombacher is correct. If there’s been a request, we have a duty. But we also have a duty to not waste staff time.”
Unorganized Territories Supervisor Millard Billings has spent time on the question as has Sheriff Scott Kane.
“When we were researching this in Bar Harbor, there was a lot of staff time involved,” Paradis said.
Three residents in the unorganized territories spoke in favor of allowing marijuana uses, both medical and commercial, during the Dec. 1 meeting.
Billings told the board in December, “When you opt in, you have to opt in for one township or all 15 plus the offshore islands in each of these four different categories, and then the same with medical use. It gets very complicated and confusing.”
Should the commission opt in, the state Land Use and Planning Commission staff would review applications.
The LUPC governs permitting in Maine’s unorganized territories and in municipalities without a planning board.
Last month, Billings had suggested the commissioners meet with a LUPC staffer to get questions answered, which is the purpose of the meeting on the 19th.
Sheriff Kane said Mary-Anne LaMarre, executive director of the Maine Sheriff’s Association, would be answering questions on the 19th.
Former Hancock County commissioner Antonio Blasi, who did not seek re-election, moved for a vote to opt in for the unorganized territories during his last meeting in December but the vote failed.