WOODSTOCK — Town and village officials are considering whether Woodstock should opt to allow marijuana dispensaries when sales of recreational cannabis in Vermont become legal next year.
The Woodstock Cannabis Review Committee this week is wrapping up an online survey of residents and business owners on the potential retail sale of cannabis.
The survey asks participants if the town or village should allow such shops, how important revenue to Woodstock would be in the equation, and whether they wanted more information on such issues as public safety, tourism, and “cannabis use and youth.”
The committee was created upon the recommendation of the Woodstock Selectboard and Village Trustees.
“It’s a group that’s not trying to make any decisions, but just gather information and be as impartial as we can be,” said Seton McIlroy, the vice chair of the Village Trustees and a member of the Cannabis Review committee.
The survey in Woodstock follows last fall’s passage of Act 164, which legalizes the retail sale of cannabis in Vermont beginning in October 2022. But towns, villages and cities must opt in, giving individual municipalities the ability to determine their position for themselves, generally through a Town Meeting vote.
“The end game is not deciding yes or no; the end game is just deciding if we are in fact going to vote on it,” McIlroy said of the survey.
Residents in more than two dozen Vermont cities and towns voted on the issue at Town Meeting in March, with most, including Burlington, Randolph, Strafford and Windsor, opting to approve retail mariuana sales.
A handful voted no, including Lyndon; Newport, Vt.; and Richmond.
The Hartford Selectboard opted not to bring the matter to voters earlier this year, saying more information was needed.
In Woodstock earlier this week, Sam DiNatale, owner of Mon Vert Cafe, said she is relatively unconcerned about the possibility of cannabis sales in Woodstock. The survey asks about the importance of collecting tax revenue from the retail sale of cannabis.
“Sure, why not? It’s already pretty state-regulated and under severe scrutiny as it is,” DiNatale said. “We sell CBD here, if that gives you any idea of how I think about it.”
CBD is a compound derived from cannabis that has little to no psychoactive effects.
Under the new law, a 14% excise tax would be applied to the sale of cannabis products, along with the state’s 6% sales tax. The new state Cannabis Control Board could also collect local licensing fees from dispensaries and distribute some of that money to host communities.
Carolyn Benvenuti, an executive coach and Woodstock resident, was more skeptical of the benefits from a cannabis tax.
“I think Woodstock could benefit from tax revenue from a lot of things,” she said. “Jumping to cannabis isn’t the path forward.”
Benvenuti, a recent transplant from Cambridge, Mass., speaks from her experience there, a city of 116,000 that is home to several colleges, where the sale of cannabis from licensed dealers was made legal in 2018.
She said she witnessed congestion as a result of people coming into Cambridge from out of state to purchase marijuana.
“I think that issue is very real,” Benvenuti said.
Others feel differently.
“We already have liquor stores everywhere,” said Kristian Preylowski, owner of the Yankee Bookshop. “I don’t see how this is much different.”
Still, Preylowski feels that residents and business owners in Woodstock need to know more.
“Everyone has mixed feelings, but additional information would help ease uncertainties and biases,” he said.
The state Cannabis Control Board was supposed to make several recommendations to the Legislature on April 1, including the amount of the proposed cannabis fees, but after the nomination process was delayed by three months, that remains up in the air.
McIlroy stressed that at this point, with the details of Act 164 still fluid, the Woodstock committee is only out to take the temperature of the town.
“We are far away from having a final answer from the state, even, on what (Act 164) entails,” McIlroy said. “After learning a bit more, we realized we had a lot more questions than answers.”
The Selectboard and Village Trustees have the ability to bring the matter to a Town Meeting vote or residents could also petition to do so.
Frances Mize can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.