by Feb 17, 2022 | Business, News
GREG NEWMAN STANDS in his Bristol shop Emerald Rose Grows, which he said would add retail sale of marijuana if Bristol voters OK a Town Meeting Day article accepting retail cannabis there. Addison Independent file photo/Christopher Ross
BRISTOL — In addition to approving local budgets and electing local officials, Bristol voters on Town Meeting Day will decide whether to allow licensed cannabis retailers to operate in town, subject to municipal ordinances and regulations.
If voters approve the measure on March 1, retail sales of cannabis (most often referred to as marijuana) could begin in the town as early as October.
Thirty Vermont communities, including Middlebury, Salisbury, Vergennes and Brandon, have already “opted in” to retail cannabis sales. A total of 18 communities, including Ferrisburgh and New Haven, will consider the question on Town Meeting Day.
Downtown Bristol business owner Greg Newman — who has operated Emerald Rose Gifts for 17 years and the garden shop Emerald Rose Grows for nearly four — spearheaded the town’s opt-in movement, collecting the signatures and submitting the petition required for inclusion of the initiative on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
“Retail cannabis is a new opportunity we’re exploring,” Newman said last week at a virtual information meeting sponsored by the Bristol Democratic Committee. “But we don’t want to change the character or dynamic of the downtown.”
Adding retail cannabis to Emerald Rose Grows, which sells a variety of garden supplies and supplements, as well as hemp plants, cannabis seeds and growing supplies, wouldn’t even change the nature of the shop that much, he said. A new counter might go up in the back, and that would be about it. And the shop would require no new signage.
Emerald Rose Grows already supports youth prevention programming in the community, Newman added, and will continue to seek ways to do so in the future.
The minimum legal age in Vermont for possessing — and eventually purchasing — cannabis is 21.
The Legislature legalized possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis in 2018. Two years later, Act 164 set the stage for a “regulated market,” according to Middlebury attorney and advocate for cannabis legal reform Dave Silberman, who also spoke at the informational meeting.
Regulations for the market, which a newly formed Vermont Cannabis Control Board began developing last summer, are in their final stages, Silberman said.
Beginning this year, Vermont plans to issue five different types of cannabis-related licenses, pertaining to:
The state is expected to begin accepting applications for growers’ licenses in April, Silberman said. Those for manufacturing, testing and wholesale would follow over the next few months, with retail applications opening up in September. Cannabis supporters are hoping retail sales can begin as soon as Oct. 1 — in communities that have permitted them.
Growing, testing, manufacturing and wholesale cannabis will be legal everywhere and no municipality may opt in or out of those activities, according to current rules.
State law does provide towns with limited regulatory rights regarding retail cannabis — through zoning, sign ordinances and nuisance ordinances. Municipalities can’t, however, use regulatory rights to effectively prohibit a cannabis establishment.
The Cannabis Control Board’s January 2022 guidance for municipalities is available online at tinyurl.com/cannabisregsVT.
Bristol Police Chief Bruce Nason said he doesn’t have any concerns at this time about retail cannabis in the village.
“I’ve talked to Greg a few times,” he said at the meeting. “He’s a knowledgeable business person and I’m sure he’ll invest properly and have security in place.”
Vermont will impose a 14% excise tax on retail cannabis products, including food and beverages. This is separate from and in addition to existing general sales and use taxes.
The Legislature will be considering local fees and option taxes during the 2022 session, which could determine how much direct revenue municipalities can expect to see from retail cannabis sales.
One lingering question is how many percentage points of the 14% excise tax should go directly to towns. The Vermont Senate at one point had considered 2%. A Vermont League of Cities and Towns pitch for 5% was rejected. At the moment, legislation is pending that would provide 2%, but it’s not clear if the House and Senate will come to an agreement on it, Silberman told the Independent.
Providing municipalities with such a direct financial incentive for retail cannabis makes a lot of sense, Silberman added, and would likely increase the number of communities willing to opt in.
For the few communities that have them, local option taxes would generate additional municipal revenue from cannabis sales. But towns that don’t have them already might not establish local option taxes for the express purpose of generating revenue from retail cannabis, according to current Cannabis Control Board guidance.
In any event, establishing a local option tax is a complicated process requiring legislative approval, Silberman pointed out. Middlebury is the only town in Addison County that has one.
The “opt-in” question on Bristol’s Town Meeting Day ballot will appear as Article 15:
“Shall the voters of the Town of Bristol permit the operation of licensed cannabis retailers, subject to such municipal ordinance and regulation as the Selectboard may lawfully adopt and implement pursuant to 7 V.S.A. s863?”
Opting out would eliminate the possibility of regulated cannabis sales in the town, but it would not eliminate cannabis sales altogether, Silberman noted.
“Cannabis is being bought and sold in Bristol today,” he said. “The question is: Does Bristol want that to be happening in the park or in the streets? Or in a store on Main Street, where it can be regulated?”
Reach Christopher Ross at email@example.com.
After Gov. Scott recommended lifting school masking recommendations, some Addison County s … (read more)
A local advocacy group and Patricia Hannaford Career Center students are about to take som … (read more)
Addison County now has a comprehensive, data-driven plan for reducing its share of the glo … (read more)