Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher said it best when he quoted: "They say money doesn't grow on trees. Well it does now." Rockland City Council members and a number of law enforcement joined in a discussion Monday, December 5, at Rockland City Hall regarding the legalization of marijuana.
Though passed on November 8, ballots from the referendum to allow the cultivation, sale and use of recreational marijuana are being recounted by the state. If the recount upholds passage, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry will determine regulations on the manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana.
Rockland Mayor Will Clayton said the purpose if the discussion was to get direction, not give direction and he wanted the discussion to focus on four points.
• What exactly was approved
• Business opportunities
• Impact on law enforcement
• City Regulations
On the November 8, ballot 55 percent of Rockland voters said yes to the referendum and 42.5 percent said no.
In addition to councilors, those attending the Dec. 5 meeting included Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher, Detective Jim Pease, Sgt. Patrick Polky of the Knox County Sheriff's Office, Rockland's Deputy Chief Chris Young and Kathryn Avery.
Councilor Valli Geiger said Avery lives part of the year in Colorado and part of the year in Rockland. She has experienced the marijuana expansion in Colorado and could insight to what the city might expect if the referendum moves forward.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said he did not believe anything would be available as far as retail sales, social clubs or growing until the summer of 2018.
Avery said she has lived it.
“There are many unintentional consequences with the legalization of marijuana," she said. "Of the states that have legalized marijuana, sales in 2015 topped $5.4 billion. In Colorado sales were in excess of $986 million; $135 million collected in taxes and fees, and 15 percent of those taxes were intended to go to schools."
Avery pointed out that there are currently more marijuana dispensaries in Colorado than there are Starbucks, McDonalds or 7-11 stores combined.
Where will all the money generated go? Currently the state has plans to capture tax revenue from marijuana.
"When a marijuana dispensary moves into a strip mall, very often the business impacted on either side is forced to move because their clients and customers complained," she said. "There were disagreements from patio communities on smoking marijuana where you have housing units in close proximity to each other."
Avery said the biggest possible impact was on warehouse space. All the vacant warehouses became grow houses, she said. And businesses were paying up to 10 times the commercial rate because nothing was available.
"Another unintended consequence was the accidental overdoses of juveniles who ingest marijuana edibles because they are indistinguishable from other treats like cookies, Gummy Bears and lollipops," she said. "And another unforeseen consequence was the number of pets who died from ingesting marijuana edibles."
Clayton asked of law enforcement that it is equated to drinking. When are you legally to high to drive?
Sgt. Patrick Polky of the Knox County Sheriff's Office is considered a drug recognition expert.
"The state of Maine has essentially two laws that deal with alcohol," said Polky. "Are you impaired? If you are, .08 is the number everyone knows, that is a tangible number for us to say if you are this number we can arrest you and it is a justifiable arrest. Marijuana is a little more difficult. Last year they tried to pass legislation to give a measurable amount to marijuana. The issue is the only way we can test in the state of Maine right now is urine. The state lab is trying to get a better system for testing. They are working on a blood program for us because we did anticipate this law passing at some point in the next few years."
Polky said that for now a driver would undergo the same battery of roadside tests. If a person displays the clues that law enforcement officers are trained to observe and if they see those clues a person will be considered impaired and an arrest will be made.
Councilor Ackor asked oBoucher how Rockland police would handle people smoking in public.
"We would handle it the same as we do with alcohol now," said Boucher. "The way the referendum went out, that is specifically mentioned in there. You cannot use it or smoke it in public. There would be some type of warning process, but yes that is something we would have to address. The document that was passed is the building block."
It was pointed out that the laws that govern medical marijuana do not apply to the current referendum.
"With medical marijuana, it's very strict as to how you grow it," said Detective Jim Pease. "At least a six foot fence on all four sides with a lock on it and only the grower can be inside. You're not allowed to be able to see it from the road."
Pease said the current referendum provides no stipulations for growing.
"In very close neighborhoods like we have here, houses on top of houses, said Pease. “There will be plants being stolen, people being beaten up. We've seen these problems with medical marijuana. We get complaints all fall of people's plants getting ripped off. They're valuable and the referendum doesn't really talk about that on the user side."
Councilor Geiger said she had voted yes on the referendum, “not because I wanted to see unfettered marijuana use, but because I was tired of seeing people going to jail.”
"I certainly wasn't thinking about pot bars," she said. "As a councilor I'm really comfortable saying I want to know a lot more and I want a pretty stringent regulation about how many, how often, where and how we create a safe environment for kids. I don't want to become the pot bar capital of Maine."
Councilor Geiger said: "We need to have some kind of framework in place if we need it. That will allow us to limit the number of social clubs to certain locations, to certain numbers and a certain area."
Clayton proposed a workshop in January to discuss the matter.
Ed Glaser was not in favor of control.
"Way back when, we controlled how many taxi cab licenses we gave out," he said. "We no longer do that because we believe in competition. We don't regulate the number of bars; we don't regulate the number of restaurants. We allow them to be competitive. I don't know why we would treat this any differently than bars, just from an ideological stand point."
Councilor Larry Pritchett said from his perspective it was neither right or wrong right now.
"Rockland has voted 55 percent for the bill," he said. "We all seem to agree that the city should similar requirements that we have for the sale of alcohol. Social clubs should exist, but what's the rational from the city's perspective to go a step beyond that. Maybe there is one, but that would be the question we need to answer."
Clayton closed the meeting by saying they would put together something for the January workshop. He had said earlier in the meeting that the silver lining to the issue is that the city has time to develop regulations if it needs to enact them.