Supporters of Failed Bar Harbor Marijuana Initiative Want it Back on the Ballot in November

Supporters of Failed Bar Harbor Marijuana Initiative Want it Back on the Ballot in November

The Bar Harbor Municipal Building on Cottage Street. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A Bar Harbor group that attempted to get voter approval so two retail marijuana stores could open in town isn’t taking no for an answer.

Although voters shot down the citizen’s initiative at the polls earlier this month, the group is already collecting signatures as part of a new campaign to allow for retail marijuana sales in town.

Love ME Cannabis, a prospective marijuana business backed by a local spa that put forth the first initiative, wants to get another citizen’s initiative before voters at November’s election.

On June 14, the original effort failed by a vote of 804 to 615.

If the initiative does get on the ballot and passes, the business could potentially open Hancock County’s second retail marijuana shop.

The new citizen’s petition is pared down from the rejected one. The new petition would limit them to five retail districts including the downtown area instead of the 26 different zoning districts originally proposed, according to town planner Michele Gagnon.

Phil Payne, the Tree of Life Day Spa’s general manager and one of the people leading the push, said it also addresses concerns about one ordinance governing both zoning and licensing regulations by splitting them into separate articles.

The sale of recreational marijuana is legal in Maine, but voters in municipalities need to vote to “opt-in.” Stores have been slow to open both statewide and in Hancock County.

As of last fall, more than 90 percent of Maine towns still didn’t allow recreational marijuana sales, and there is only one retail store — Meristem in Southwest Harbor — in Hancock County. Most of the county still doesn’t allow recreational sales, including Ellsworth, the population center of the region..

Efforts like these don’t have to be done by citizen’s initiative, and towns can propose ordinances to allow for retail sales. But Bar Harbor officials haven’t put forward their own proposed ordinances for shops, and town council member Jill Goldthwait said she personally wouldn’t support the idea.

Goldthwait says she had a hard time justifying allowing sales in Bar Harbor if the state receives all the tax revenue, but the town is on the hook for enforcement of any new regulations. She also worried about it having adverse impacts on the downtown. She also feels it’s not needed, as people who did want it could buy cannabis on the other side of Mount Desert Island.

“You can go to Southwest,” she said. “It’s not like we are denying people the opportunity.”

But Payne believes that sales could benefit the town. In 2016, 59 percent of Bar Harbor voters cast ballots in favor of the statewide legalization of recreational cannabis.

He hoped that the larger number of voters that usually head to the polls for a general election could be the difference maker if the new petitions in Bar Harbor get on the ballot.

“We think that come November the crowds will come out and be in support of the language,” Payne said.

By Ethan Genter | Bangor Daily News