By Fred Thys/VTDigger
In Town Meeting Day votes on Tuesday, March 1, Vermonters greatly expanded the number of towns where retail sales of cannabis will be permitted to anyone 21 and older.
“It’s a very important moment for Vermont,” said James Pepper, chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board. “We want Vermonters to be able to access this product close to their home as opposed to having these cannabis deserts around Vermont.”
While several smaller towns said no, Tuesday’s vote greatly reduced the distances between towns that have decided to allow cannabis retail in their future.
Essex, the second-largest city in Vermont and the biggest to hold a cannabis-related vote Tuesday, approved the sale of recreational cannabis by a wide margin, 3,589-2,473.
Among more than 40 communities who considered retail cannabis on Tuesday, at least 25 said yes, according to a tally by VTDigger. Among the other larger communities that said yes were Barre (767-463), Bristol (513-264), Hartford (1,152-748), Manchester (591-355), Milton (1,060-895) and Springfield (715-632).
Other towns that voted to pass the proposals included: Bolton (114-63), Derby (200-165), Fair Haven (285-230), Fayston (129-78), Ferrisburgh (294-172), Grand Isle (316-223), Marlboro (201-94), Moretown (326-207), Pittsford (323-313), Poultney (298-258), Proctor (125-102), Putney (384-263), Rockingham (318-187), Wallingford (269-228), Waitsfield (297-160) and Wilmington (173-85).
In Stratton, the 20 people who turned out for Town Meeting approved the measure, and Sheldon approved cannabis retail by two votes, 71-69.
“What this means really is that the board has a lot of work to do with these towns whose citizens have asked for this because there are a lot of questions out there,” Pepper said. “Towns don’t know where their authority is, where the board’s authority is.”
Among the questions towns have, Pepper said, is what the role of first responders will be.
Meanwhile, several towns decided they want no part of cannabis retail. The 19 Norton residents who went to their Town Meeting said no to cannabis on a voice vote from the floor.
Other communities that rejected the measure included Castleton (351-301), Eden (27-19), Leicester (56-53), Mount Holly (250-147) and Swanton Village (125-119).
Across about 30 municipalities who reported results Tuesday night, some 36,200 voters favored retail cannabis, while 18,600 disapproved, according to VTDigger’s count.
Prior to Tuesday, 33 Vermont communities had already approved retail cannabis establishments, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
In St. Albans Town, before the polls closed, voters Tuesday had mixed answers when asked whether they supported retail cannabis.
Meg Jarvis said she voted yes in hopes it would provide a new stream of revenue for the town.
“It’s happening around the state,” she said. “It’s time to have this be a way to generate revenue.” Still, she said she is concerned that the St. Albans Town police budget might have to go up if a local retail cannabis shop opened up.
Another resident, Rita Sweeney, said she voted against the ballot article because she does not think cannabis should be used recreationally in the town.
“If it’s for medical purposes, yes — of course,” Sweeney said. “But if it’s for recreation, I’m sorry. I don’t believe in it.”
Under Vermont law, consumption of recreational cannabis is already legal, but communities must opt in before anyone can set up shop to sell the product for non-medical use.