BRATTLEBORO — Tapped to serve on an advisory committee to provide input ahead the rollout of retail cannabis in Vermont due to his expertise with municipal matters, Tim Wessel is looking forward to being part of the process.
“It’s an opportunity to get this right,” he said. “We want to make sure the rollout for this is suitable for towns like Brattleboro and towns around Vermont.”
The 14-member Cannabis Advisory Committee will advise the state’s four-member Cannabis Control Board as it navigates the implementation of a regulated retail cannabis market in Vermont. Sales are expected to begin in fall 2022.
Wessel, a member of the Brattleboro Select Board since 2017 and former board chairman, was appointed to the committee by the Vermont Senate Committee on Committees. He volunteered when Vermont League of Cities and Towns put out a notice searching for someone to sit on the board.
His seat is specifically designed for someone to represent the interests of municipalities.
“I fought for more taxation privileges for municipalities when it came to the cannabis legislation so I felt like I was a pretty good fit,” he said. “Towns and villages are definitely needing to have a voice when it comes to the path going forward.”
Other recent appointments to the advisory committee included Chris Walsh, director of sales and business development at Terra Vera and former president and CEO of Nectar’s Entertainment Group, who will represent the cannabis industry, and Ashley Reynolds, president and co-founder of Elmore Mountain Therapeutics, who has advocated for greater accessibility for women entrepreneurs and stringent regulations to protect Vermont consumers.
Wessel said he will advocate for the concerns of municipalities, towns and villages as they are going to feel both the good and bad effects of the new market. Enforcement, zoning, sales, proximity of retailers to schools, prevention, policing and traffic are some topics that come to mind.
Municipalities will have their own local cannabis commissioners acting similar to local liquor commissioners. Wessel said the Brattleboro Select Board is waiting on the state for guidance on how its local commission will be formed.
While there are many issues to consider, Wessel is most concerned about those pertaining to local control. Legislation says there will be fees going to municipalities to cover what he called “some of the real-world work that the towns are going to be doing to make this happen.”
“That’s why a lot of towns are saying no thanks,” he said, adding that municipalities want to avoid more administrative work and potentially more issues for police.
One thing Wessel isn’t interested in is debating the morality behind retail cannabis.
“We’re way past the point of deciding whether this is the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s coming in and Brattleboro has made it very clear that they want retail cannabis and it’s authorized by the state so we’re going forward with that.”
In March, Brattleboro voted 1,397-425 to allow retail cannabis sales in town.
As someone who doesn’t use cannabis, Wessel feels he will be “pretty objective.” He said he occasionally smoked in college, always feeling “the specter of: This is illegal.”
Part of the process in establishing a regulated retail cannabis market in Vermont looks at ensuring equity following unfair sentencing handed out as a result of drug laws and a disproportionate impact on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities.
“It’s certainly a concern,” said Wessel, who plans to bring up issues raised to him by local constituents and other Vermonters.
Wessel anticipates the first committee meeting will occur in early to mid August.
“It’s kind of a moving target,” he said. “I put my hat into the ring two months ago and haven’t heard anything so they’re running a little behind on their schedules.”
Wessel expects to be part of working groups or subcommittees with meetings happening two to four times a month before the end of the year. He believes the meetings will occur in Montpelier and some can be joined remotely.
Wessel said he’s excited about the appointment.
“I’m slightly less busy because I’m not in leadership for the Select Board so I got maybe a little more time,” he said, “but not really if you ask my wife.”
Julie Hulburd, member of the Cannabis Control Board, said the committee will create the definition of a "social equity applicant" who would be eligible to receive assistance through the Cannabis Business Loan Fund to break down barriers of entry to the market. She said among other things, the committee will need to have an understanding of how rules in the market will affect local government.
The way in which the committee and board will interact is still being determined.
"We just got final appointments made and we're hoping to have a kickoff meeting at some point in the next few weeks to outline these processes in the future," Hulburd said.
This article was updated at 2:11 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2021 to include comments from Julie Hulburd.