WINDSOR, Vt. — The Windsor Selectboard is considering a town vote in March to determine whether to allow cannabis retail businesses to operate in town.
On Oct. 7, Vermont became the 11th state to allow the retail sale of marijuana with the passage of bill S.54, a 108-page piece of legislation that provides a roadmap for Vermont to implement a retail cannabis marketplace.
A key component of the bill authorizes the voters of each municipality to decide by ballot whether to permit cannabis retail businesses to operate in their community.
On Wednesday, the Windsor Selectboard weighed the advantages and concerns of putting the question on the warrant on Town Meeting Day in March 2021.
Selector Amanda Smith relayed concerns expressed to her by the Mt. Ascutney Prevention Partnership, a public health coalition, about having sufficient time to educate the community about the issue prior to a vote.
“They were worried that people might not have enough information to make an informed decision by Town Meeting Day or what the implications of what retail cannabis would be in the town,” Smith said.
Smith still said she favored holding the vote in March and noted that the town would still have the ability afterward to set zoning by-laws and other ordinances to regulate local cannabis retail.
“Just because we vote as a town to opt in doesn’t mean there won’t be more going into this decision about what this would like for us as a town,” Smith said.
Voting to “opt-in,” or to allow one’s community to host cannabis retail, carries several economic caveats, according to the bill. Municipalities that opt-in will receive a share of 30% of the tax revenues collected by the state, including those generated from a standalone 14% cannabis excise tax and the standard 6% sales and use tax. Municipalities that host cannabis retail businesses may also vote to enact an additional local sales tax on cannabis products sold in-town or online.
While towns that initially opt-out could still choose to opt-in later, Selector Christopher Goulet noted that there may be better economic opportunities to towns that are involved in the market at the onset as it develops and grows.
“To be part of an unfolding industry is not something that you get to see or take part in very often,” Goulet said. “There is certainly a pressure to do it sooner rather than later.”
Goulet said holding the vote on Town Meeting Day makes more sense than scheduling a later special meeting vote because the Town Meeting is when the residents are most engaged in issues under consideration.
Vice-Chair James Reed agreed with setting the vote for Town Meeting Day, which would give ample time for community discussions while also framing them around a definitive purpose and deadline.
“I can see the value of having the discussions around this decision,” Reed said. “But I also see the value of just putting the question on the ballot so that we’re held to a date for this decision to be made.”
Town Manager Tom Marsh advised that a considerable amount of public campaigning and information sharing may be necessary for the question to pass in March. According to results from a community survey last year, one-third of surveyed residents said they would support having cannabis retail, one-third of surveyed residents were opposed to it and one-third of the responses said their support would depend on the oversight put in place.
“It’s not a question of whether or not the question goes on the ballot but whether it passes,” Marsh said. “It’s going to be talked about one way or another, whether it’s through the selectboard or other sources. A good clearinghouse for that [discussion] is probably the best way to garner any support for it.”
Smith said the objective should be to give the community a voice in the decision, regardless of the outcome.
“I’m not going into this with an agenda on this specific topic,” Smith said. “But I do see it as allowing people to have a voice.
The selectboard decided to make their decision at their next meeting to allow Marsh to draft the official language of the motion.
Importantly, the local vote will only pertain to cannabis retail businesses. Even if the community votes not to opt-in, cannabis growers, manufacturers, laboratories or processors would still be allowed to establish businesses in Windsor.