Lebanon selectmen chair chided over conflict of interest, public hearing issues

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Lebanon resident Michael Walsworth tells Selectmen Chair Chuck Russell his votes on cannabis rules are "voidable" due to Russell's conflict of interest as a paid cannabis consultant. (Rochetser Voice photos)

LEBANON, Maine - Two narratives emerged during Saturday's public hearing ahead of a scheduled revote on two marijuana business referendums rejected by residents during the town election in June.
One pushed by selectmen - most vocally by Selectmen Chair Chuck Russell and newly elected Selectman James DuPrie - is that if townspeople don't vote yes on both referendums on Aug. 3 they'll be paying the legal bills to defend the town over lawsuits from retail cannabis business owners.

Selectmen Chair Chuck Russell replies to a question during Saturday's public hearing outside Town Offices on Upper Guinea Road in Lebanon. Behind Russell is Selectman Paul Philbrick.

Opponents like Teri Poirier, former Selectperson Corinna Cole and resident Michael Walsworth, however, said Russell, himself, is so compromised by his admitted involvement with cannabis growers as a consultant, that he shouldn't even be voting on matters concerning marijuana, let alone moderating a public hearing, which is normally done by a neutral party with no dog in the fight.
Walsworth, who said he had pored over state cannabis rules and regulations, accused Russell and the board of de facto zoning, by limiting cannabis business to Route 202, while Lebanon has no zoning laws due to having no charter.
He also said Russell should have not voted on any cannabis-related issues since he has worked as a paid cannabis "consultant."
"Every vote you've taken is voidable," Walsworth added.

Walsworth added that five days is not ample notice for a public hearing of such gravity and by law, it should have been advertised at least twice in a media outlet.

Cannabis business owner Mel Warren said she has been very patient, but lawsuits are likely if current cannabis businesses are denied their licenses.
Voters in June voted to keep caregiver marijuana licenses but rejected both retail medical and recreational sales.
During the June 8 vote, ordinances governing Adult Use Marijuana businesses and Medical Marijuana businesses were rejected.

Russell said if voters reject the two ordinances again, he'll try to force another vote in November.

Many like Poirier and Cole chanted "Honor the Vote" during Saturday's public hearing, since it was just last month that town voters rejected the two referendums.

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