Brattleboro voters to consider marijuana sales on March ballot | Local News

BRATTLEBORO — Town residents will decide this spring whether to allow the retail sale of marijuana in Brattleboro.

The Brattleboro Selectboard unanimously approved adding the question to the March 2 ballot during a special meeting Tuesday night.

“It’s a commonsense thing to see what Brattleboro thinks, and that will help us decide whether we need to invest the resources and implementing in Brattleboro or not,” Board Clerk Ian Goodnow said. “And that’s without giving an opinion either way. I just think giving people the voice here makes a lot of sense.”

In October, Vermont became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana sales, which will be regulated by a three-member state Cannabis Control Board, according to a news release from Gov. Phil Scott. The bill became law without the governor’s signature.

Retail stores will be able to receive licenses from the board and open in October 2022, but whether individual communities will allow the sale is subject to town approval, the release says.

Middlebury was the first and only community so far to authorize a vote on marijuana sales, with its selectboard approving the motion Dec. 8.

In 2018, Vermont also legalized the possession (up to 1 ounce) and cultivation of marijuana for those 21 and older. Medical marijuana has been allowed in the Green Mountain State since 2004.

Tuesday’s meeting brought limited discussion from community members, with nearly 40 people on the Zoom call.

Among them was Cassandra Holloway, director of the social-service agency Building a Positive Community in Brattleboro, who worried the decision might be rushed.

“My concern is we are asking our town residents to vote without any real information on what they are voting on,” Holloway said, “because on a state level, they haven’t figured out what to do on a local level.”

Scott initially planned to have the Cannabis Control Board members appointed in January, the law states, though the governor said this timeline may be “too aggressive.” The board is aimed at starting the rule-making process for cannabis shops in July.

The control board will have authority over licensing, regulation and enforcement of Vermont’s cannabis industry.

Members of the Brattleboro Selectboard agreed with Holloway’s concern, and said they plan to provide the community with information on what retail sale would mean for the town prior to the spring vote.

Holloway, who works with youths on substance-use prevention, said she’s also worried that having a retail cannabis store in Brattleboro could trigger those in recovery or lead to increased use among teens.

Several studies show youth marijuana use has actually decreased in states where recreational cannabis is legal.

A 2019 study published by the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry used data from national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1993 to 2017.

The study found an 8 percent decrease in the likelihood of teens using marijuana, as well as a 9 percent reduction in the odds of frequent cannabis use — at least 10 times in the past 30 days — in states that allow recreational marijuana use.

From a business perspective, putting the question on the ballot this year is important, according to Brattleboro resident Scott Sparks.

Sparks owns Vermont Hempicurean on Flat Street, which sells Vermont-grown hemp, CBD products and marijuana-growing supplies. If Brattleboro residents pass the ballot measure, he said he’ll move his store to a larger location and add recreational marijuana.

“As a business owner, I’d like to know sooner rather than later, because it is going take an awful lot of planning,” he said. “The more information I have up front is certainly going to make it a lot easier for me going forward.”

Ultimately, town residents will decide — albeit how many of them will turn out to do so remains to be seen.

“We know, historically, that the number of people who vote on town meeting day is not representative of the town,” said selectboard member Daniel Quipp. “I hope people will learn this is on the ballot and get informed and tell us their thoughts on it.”

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