Residents gather at the Sorrento-Sullivan Recreation Center on Route 1 in Sullivan, where they passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale and commercial growth of marijuana. PHOTO BY JACK DODSON

Sullivan residents vote to prohibit sale of marijuana

SULLIVAN — Voters passed a prohibition on retail sales and commercial growing of marijuana during a special town meeting on Thursday, following a contentious debate that lasted nearly an hour.

Many towns in Hancock County have passed ordinances restricting the sale of marijuana. Fewer than half of those ordinances are moratoriums, meaning they will expire after a set amount of time.

Sullivan’s newly adopted ordinance will remain in place until it is amended or repealed during a town meeting.

Early in the discussion, Norman Bamford stood up to declare his opposition to the prohibition, saying he feared it would not help matters of crime in the town.

“Prohibition causes black markets, it causes crime to go up,” he said. “Here in Sullivan, let’s not pretend like people don’t use marijuana.”

Hollis Hills stood up to reply that he was only concerned about the retail aspect of pot in the town.

“I have nothing against the personal use of marijuana. I went to college in the ’60s,” Hills said as residents laughed. “I don’t want a place selling marijuana here.”

Bamford questioned whether the prohibition would apply to cannabidiol (CBD), which is an extract of cannabis. He runs the Hippie Hideaway, a new store that sells lifestyle items like pipes and soaps, and said he was worried the ordinance might prohibit sale of CBD.

The question of whether the prohibition would apply to CBD went unanswered. Town Manager Rob Eaton said he thought the ordinance wasn’t clear because it uses the word “marijuana,” which is a broad term. Execution of the ordinance will fall on the town’s code enforcement officer.

The Food and Drug Administration issued warnings to stores in Colorado, Nevada and Florida earlier this year that CBD products are not approved for “the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease.”

But two Sullivan residents stood up to testify about CBD’s positive impacts. Melissa Carver, a woman from Machias who said she’d struggled with addiction after serving in the military, told residents CBD had eased her anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Did I get a high? No. I wasn’t looking for a high,” she said of CBD.

Nick Johnson, her husband, said CBD also could help people like him, who had struggled with addiction.

“Coming from my world — and I’m not good at words, and I’m extremely nervous,” he said as other residents talked among themselves. “But to prohibit something that could help with addicts … Clinics will kick you out with nothing.”

“It’s a democracy — listen,” an audience member called out to the people talking while Johnson was finishing his point.

Other residents expressed concern that they believed the Hippie Hideaway was a “social club” for marijuana. They referenced a video that had been shared on Facebook, alleging that Bamford said there were couches on the property for people to stay over if they needed.

One man stood up to advocate for the spirit of Sullivan, saying marijuana retail would fundamentally change the culture.

“We’re here to vote for what kind of town we want Sullivan to be known for,” he said, suggesting that inns and pottery shops could be positive developments in the area. “We want our houses to be safe and our children to not be alarmed by the environment they’re growing up in.”

Another man, who declined to provide his name, said he was concerned that the ordinance combined retail stores with commercial growth.

“It’s a farmed product which would be prohibited in this town,” he said.

Mike Pinkham, Sullivan’s harbormaster, stood up toward the end of the discussion to say he’d been involved in bringing the ordinance to the town meeting. He believed it would buy residents time while issues with the state law regarding marijuana are worked out.

He said he didn’t care whether individuals used marijuana, but wanted the ordinance to help the town manage growth responsibly.

“To be proactive instead of reactive,” he said.

Near the end of the discussion, a woman who said her daughter had been killed by a drunk driver at 21 turned to address Bamford and those sitting near him who opposed the prohibition. Bamford had earlier expressed sympathy about the loss of her daughter, but said marijuana sales and drunk driving were not the same issue.

She said she had worked in a Veterans Affairs hospital, “where the men were men and weren’t crybabies like you all are.”

The statement caused an uproar. One man yelled, “You need to stop her, you’re attacking someone.”

The moderator banged his gavel and asked the crowd to settle down.

Ultimately, the measure passed with a vote of 51 in favor of the prohibition to 20 opposed.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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