Deciding on pot dispensaries: Will voters have their say on Town Meeting Day?

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 5:59 PM EST
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HARTFORD, Vt. (WCAX) - The sale and regulation of recreational marijuana became law in Vermont in October 2020. Now, it’s up to individual cities and towns to decide whether those stores will be in their communities.

Vermont is known for it’s Town Meeting Day tradition. And under the cannabis law, the location of recreational marijuana stores will be decided at the local level. But not all towns will be putting the issue to the people this March.

“People didn’t feel like there was enough information out there to present it to voters,” said Dan Fraser, the chair of the Hartford Selectboard.

We don’t have a full tally of decisions across the state, but at least three towns-- Hartford, Williston and Essex-- have decided not to put the question to voters on Town Meeting Day.

On the flip slide, some communities that will take up the issue include Burlington, Brattleboro, Montpelier and Middlebury.

A yes vote does not approve a store in any given community but rather the possibility of one.

Select board members in Hartford say they simply did not have enough information to put the issue to the voters.

“Try to evaluate exactly what it means for the town, if there is any financial gains, what the restrictions are, how residents feel. There is a bunch of unknown things that we need to have answered first,” Fraser said.

“Let the town vote, let’s see what the town has to say about it,” Stephanie Waterman said.

Waterman owns a CBD and supply store in White River Junction called Grow Pro. She says she’s disappointed Hartford voters will not be weighing in on cannabis stores this March but she also acknowledges that information is limited.

“A lot of indications in the state look like we will be similar to the Massachusetts model in terms of our regulating but we don’t know yet because we don’t have the cannabis control board,” Waterman said.

That board will be appointed this year and set the rules for recreational sales. And while retail stores can’t start operating for another year and a half, cannabis advocates say towns that delay action could miss out.

“There is time if it doesn’t go on town meeting in March, but the clock is ticking and these businesses who are going to need to purchase property and renovate these buildings and be ready to go in 2022, they need to know that towns have opted in,” said Andrew Subin of Vermont Cannabis Solutions.

Opting in, for some, could mean a big boon for the state.

“We have such great tourism here. It’s just one more thing for people to come to our wonderful state to buy,” Waterman said.

Because of COVID-19, state officials are encouraging towns to consider delaying their Town Meeting Day gatherings. Doing so could potentially give communities more time to decide whether cannabis stores will be up for a vote in their community.

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