WILMINGTON — A local business is celebrating its success in petitioning for a vote to allow retail cannabis sales in town.
“Our petition has been turned in, the signatures were counted and verified and it’s OFFICIAL!” Ratu’s Liquor and Market said Saturday via Facebook. “We have enough signatures to make the ballot! Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the folks who came out to sign! We appreciate the love and support! Next up, the vote!!!”
On Monday, Town Clerk Therese Lounsbury said the Select Board received the voter-backed petition and she doesn’t “foresee any hurdles to placing it on the ballot.”
Town Manager Scott Tucker expects the board to vote Tuesday on a warning to present to voters at annual Town Meeting in March. His office was notified last week that there were enough signatures on a petition to place an article on the warning, asking voters if the town should authorize cannabis retailers in town.
Retail cannabis sales are anticipated to begin in Vermont in October. Voters in Brattleboro, Jamaica and Londonderry have already approved such sales.
Christian Engel, co-owner of Ratu’s Liquor and Market, plans to sell cannabis at his downtown shop where CBD or cannabidiol is already sold, if voters approve the article.
“My first and foremost thing is I want anybody who has any concerns to rest assured that I plan on doing this 110 percent,” he said. “You know, this is something that I’ve been patiently waiting for since we first started doing CBD and I can’t wait to be doing both products because CBD and THC together are amazing products.”
In total, Engel counted about 160 or 170 signatures on the petition. He said he told Lounsbury he was nervous because he knew some of them came from people who aren’t registered to vote in Wilmington.
“They mean well but what’s great about seeing them coming from other towns is they’ll come here and spend money,” he said, having received support from residents of nearby Dover, Halifax and Readsboro.
Engel estimated 120 to 130 signatures were valid.
“It was great,” he said. “I know in my heart, it’s going to happen. We’re one of the few places that have turned our petition in ahead of the deadline.”
Meg Staloff, chairwoman of the Wilmington Planning Commission and coordinator of downtown organization Wilmington Works, said she hasn’t heard much discussion about the vote to have any sense about its outcome.
Before the vote, Engel hopes to get Vermont CBD companies involved in an educational campaign. He said they are “willing to do these things to help further progression of legalizing cannabis.”
Engel expressed interest in participating in the informational meeting held just before Town Meeting Day. He suggested the potential of holding seminars at the store or Historic Memorial Hall.
“I don’t want it to be just to alleviate people’s mind to get the OK from our town to sell cannabis,” he said. “I want this to be an ongoing thing. I’d like to do it a few times a year. The whole culture, and cannabis as a whole, is constantly changing and growing.”
Similar to running his alcohol business, Engel expects regulatory protocols to be updated over time. When the Vermont Division of Liquor Control makes changes, he said, “we let our customers know, and so on and so forth.”
His plan also involves posting on Facebook and Instagram to let supporters know about the vote and remind them to participate.
Engel said he’s completed some “preliminary footwork” by talking with a plumber about putting in a ventilation system. He wants families to continue shopping for clothes and shoes in the shop without having to worry about the stench of cannabis or being bombarded with incense.
Engel understands not everyone will accept the cannabis culture. He said he wants to respect that.
“Just like when you walk into the liquor store,” he said, “it doesn’t smell like a bottle redemption center.”
Lately, each day seemed to be a learning experience for Engel as the Vermont Cannabis Control Board finetuned its recommendations for the regulated market. He doesn’t expect cannabis sales to be up and running at Ratu’s until 2023.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Windham-6, who also serves as vice chairman of the Wilmington Select Board, met with Engel and his wife Jennifer Betit-Engel to discuss the prospect and walk through the store to get an idea of how the operation will work. In a previous interview, Gannon said he thinks it’s good that they understand how a regulated business works since they have run a liquor store.
“I think it’s good that they’re taking the lead on this rather than someone who doesn’t have the regulatory background they do because it’s going to be highly regulated,” he said. “They’ve been successful. They’re committed to the town. That’s good to see rather than some corporation come in that has no attachment to the town.”
Gannon said Betit-Engel and Engel have children so he’s sure they also understand the need for safeguards.