Ellsworth City Councilor Gary Fortier made an astute point during the April 18 discussion about allowing the city’s sole medical marijuana dispensary to relocate from a low-profile, edge-of-town location to a high-profile intersection in town.
At issue was the request of Maine Organic Therapy, now tucked away off the Bucksport Road, for a zoning change that would allow the dispensary to relocate to the former Global Beverage Warehouse at the corner of High and Myrick streets.
Maine Organic Therapy’s product, medical marijuana, is a legal and, according to many authorities, effective source of relief for individuals undergoing chemotherapy or dealing with AIDS/HIV or chronic pain.
Ellsworth City Planner Michele Gagnon rightly notes that this is a legitimate business and ought to be accorded the municipal consideration that any other business would deserve. Fortier did not challenge that notion but he did remind his fellow councilors that, come November, Maine voters could approve a ballot measure likely to come before them legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. If that became the case, Fortier said, a medical marijuana dispensary might very well become a recreational use retail outlet. Any effort to ban such sales would be, he said, “like trying to stop Hannaford from selling butter.”
Though still legal, is this the business Ellsworth wishes to present to the millions of visitors who travel High Street each summer en route to Acadia National Park? Have we — locally or nationally — come to terms with the issues of marijuana use by young people or more impaired drivers on our roads?
It’s not a done deal. The ballot question gives cities and towns authority to regulate where and when retail marijuana shops could operate — or ban them outright. Even were voters to approve the proposed initiative, the state then would have to come up with rules for the oversight of recreational marijuana sales.
It’s up to the council, city manager and city planner to take the initiative now while there is time to rehearse the different possibilities. Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty — it’s also pretty handy when making plans for your city’s future.