Towns that say ‘yes’ to retail pot can’t say ‘no’ later

The saying “Act in haste, repent at leisure” could be good advice to towns deciding at Town Meeting whether to allow retail pot shops. 

The following towns are scheduled to vote on retail marijuana 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 vote at a meeting later this year.

Physicians, Families and Friends Education Fund, a physician led association of concerned members of the public, is urging the public to go slow when considering whether to vote in favor of marijuana sales in local communities.

A statute adopted last year authorizes each town and city to vote to allow or reject retail marijuana sales.

According to James Dumont, an attorney advising Physicians, Families and Friends, “Many Vermonters may not know that under that new state law, once a community votes “yes” and a marijuana retailer sets up shop, that retailer can continue to sell marijuana in your community forever.”

Dumont explains that the statute creates a “marijuana lock-in” for every marijuana retailer who sets up shop. “That means that if the community finds out this was a bad decision, because of the public health effects or anything else, the community can vote to change its mind — but not for any retailer already in business. The community is locked-in forever to that retailer.”

Physicians, Families and Friends is calling on the legislature to change the statute to allow a “yes” vote to be followed, later, by a “no” vote that means something, if the public finds that the results have been unacceptable to their community. 

Most towns and cities do not have zoning in place now to regulate where retail sales of marijuana should be allowed. It’s treated the same as any other retail store.

“Properly regulated marijuana sales have been approved by our legislature,” Dumont explains, “and part of that proper regulation is local zoning.”

“Some Vermont towns and cities may decide it’s not a good idea to allow marijuana sales in all the same locations as general retail is currently allowed, such as next to schools or playgrounds. You should have the right zoning in place first, and then hold a vote to authorize sales, so that voters know where it would happen and so that, once it starts, it is in the right locations,” Dumont said. 

Once voters say “yes,” Dumont warns, and a store is located in a part of town that later zoning changes say is inappropriate, “the horses will be out of the barn.”`

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