Middlebury is the first Vermont municipality to authorize a vote on whether to allow retail sales of marijuana starting in 2022.
The town selectboard decided unanimously Tuesday to put the question on the Town Meeting Day ballot for voters to decide on March 2.
In October, Gov. Phil Scott allowed a bill to become law that establishes a regulatory market for marijuana in Vermont.
Marijuana dispensaries will be able to sell the drug directly to the general public as early as October 2022. Currently, Vermont has five marijuana dispensaries which only offer products to consumers with a state-issued card who have an allowed medical condition. Under the law, existing medical dispensaries can start selling to the public as early as May 2022.
Municipal voters must authorize retail sales shops in each town.
Board members put the question on the ballot so that residents wouldn’t need to collect petition signatures during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Brian Carpenter, chair of Middlebury’s selectboard.
Residents can place measures on the town meeting ballot if they collect signatures from at least 5% of the town’s registered voters.
“I asked the board to support it because I felt that the right thing to do was to engage the town early and give everybody an opportunity to through the paper, through Front Porch Forum, through whatever means, to deliberate this,” Carpenter said.
“It’s going to take longer to deliberate, given that we can’t put 500 people in one facility to discuss it,” he said.
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Middlebury will hold a public hearing in February, Carpenter said.
If voters approve the measure, the March vote will give the town “plenty of notice” to adjust zoning laws and other rules for dispensaries, Carpenter said.
Dave Silberman, a Middlebury attorney who lobbied for marijuana legalization in Montpelier, had been collecting signatures for a town meeting petition, in the event the board didn’t act on the matter. He said he collected about 350 signatures, mostly from voters he met outside the polls on Election Day, Nov. 3.
“I’m glad the selectboard has agreed to put it on the ballot. I’m confident it would have been on the ballot one way or another, but I’m glad that the selectboard has elected to do this,” Silberman said.
“The fact of the matter is that legalization and having stores is just not controversial anymore. It’s not controversial really anywhere and it’s certainly not controversial in Middlebury and I expect the result of the vote to reveal that,” he said.
So far, Middlebury appears to be the only town poised to vote this March on marijuana dispensaries, though town meeting agendas aren’t firmed up until mid-January.
Gwynn Zakov, the municipal policy advocate for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said she wasn’t aware of any other towns considering votes on marijuana dispensaries.
Silberman said Vermont’s new cannabis industry may grow slowly, given the requirement for towns to “opt-in” before dispensaries can open, paired with the Covid-19 pandemic, which makes it harder to collect signatures.
“I worry that this is a recipe for a very, very slow rollout of the market,” he said.
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