By Guy Page
A new Vermont House member disputes a veteran senator’s claim that communities should be able to decide by next March whether to ask voters if a retail marijuana store is a good fit.
At issue is a proposed Senate bill to change to last year’s retail cannabis law, which promised towns they wouldn’t have to host marijuana shops unless and until voters agreed to allow them. Senate Bill 25 , co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), would amend the law by limiting the window of town decision-making to just one year. If by next March a town hasn’t put the question to voters, they’ll never be able to do so again. After that, all license applications would go through the state controlled Cannabis Control Board.
“As for whether towns have had enough time, this issue has been out there now for over five years, possibly more,” Benning said. “I would argue that any such suggestion that ‘we need more time’ at this point is really just an attempt to avoid having to deal with it. In the meantime, with cannabis now legal, underground sales markets that threaten to release to our kids more harmful substances are thriving due to legally approved retail sites being unavailable.”
Freshman Rep. Art Peterson (R-Clarendon) disagrees. He is the lead sponsor of H164, which “proposes to require a town to vote to allow the operation of any type of licensed cannabis establishment prior to such an establishment operating within the town.”
“I am concerned that S25 sets a deadline on our towns,” Peterson said. “If towns do not conduct a vote that means they are not interested in having cannabis retailers in their communities, which is their right under the law. By their inaction, towns are sending the message that they are either not interested in drug retailers, or are in a “wait and see” mode.”
“I don’t believe towns like the heavy handed, ‘we know better what’s good for you’ approach of S.25,” Peterson said. “My bill will will extend local control to cover cultivation, product manufacturing, and product testing of cannabis. Towns will be able to decide whether or not they want to be a part of the cannabis industry, an industry that is still illegal at the federal level. Again, if towns choose to do nothing they will not be subject to growers and producers coming in to their communities uninvited, as is now the law.”
On Town Meeting Day, March 2, voters in at least 20 Vermont cities and towns will decide whether to allow retail marijuana. The new state law says local voter approval is needed before a marijuana store can open. But what about towns that don’t want to vote on retail pot? At least 41 towns don’t even want the question on the Town Meeting ballot.
According to media reports and results from a town clerk survey by Vermont for Drug Free Youth, the following municipalities will hold “shall retail marijuana be allowed” votes at Town Meeting:
Middlebury, Salisbury, Bennington, Randolph, Orleans, Berlin, Waitsfield, Waterbury, Brattleboro, Burlington, Montpelier, Brandon, Winooski, Pownal, Lyndon, St. Johnsbury, Brownington, Newport, and Pawlet. Londonderry will hold a vote, but probably at a later date this year, Town Clerk and legislator Kelly Pajala told Vermont Daily today.
The following towns will not hold a retail marijuana vote at Town Meeting:
Clarendon, Thetford, Cornwall, Goshen, Ripton, Shoreham, Starksboro, Waltham, East Dorset, Manchester Ctr, Searsburg, Stamford, Woodford, Danville, Kirby, Sheffield, Williston, Brunswick, Guildhall, Sheldon, Isle La Motte, Morrisville, Topsham, Washington, Alburgh, Grand Isle, Jay, Cabot, E Montpelier, Roxbury, Warren, E. Dummerston, Guilford, Marlboro, Townshend, Hartford, Barnard, Ludlow, Plymouth, Reading, Rochester.
The voting status of other municipalities is unknown at this time.
(Full disclosure – Vermont Daily editor is a former executive director of Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.)