Sen. White fields cannabis questions and more

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BELLOWS FALLS — It will take a townwide vote if Rockingham wants to ban a retail marijuana store, state Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, told Rockingham and Bellows Falls officials last week.

White said it was a not a decision the Rockingham Select Board or Bellows Falls Board of Trustees can make for the town and village.

White, who said she was one of the authors of the Senate-passed cannabis bill (which hasn't been passed yet by the House), said much of downtown Bellows Falls would be off-limits for a retail cannabis store because there are schools within 1,000 feet.

"You can have a town-wide vote to prohibit it, but it has to go to the voters," she said, saying it was not a matter of zoning regulations or a decision by the Select Board.

In 2013, Rockingham prohibited any medical marijuana dispensary from locating in town, said Gary Fox, the town's development director.

White urged the town and village to be flexible when it comes to cannabis. Many of the small farmers in Rockingham may want the option of growing cannabis, she said.

"That's up to you and how the town votes," said White.

Any retail store would be strictly off limits to anyone under the age of 21, she said, as they are forbidden from even entering the store.

She said the town can vote to impose a 2 percent local option tax on marijuana products.

Town Manager Wendy Harrison had invited the town's legislators to come give updates on various issues, including cannabis legislation. Only White showed up.

Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, had a prior commitment in St. Albans, Harrison said, while Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, had to take care of her children. Rep. Matt Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, had been expected to attend but never arrived.

FIRE INSPECTOR TRAINING

In addition to cannabis, White was asked about the lack of funding for training of fire inspectors.

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Harrison said the town and village wanted to send three people to the fire inspector training, but were allowed to only send one — Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis.

White, who is chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, said she was not aware of the shortage of fire inspectors and the restrictions on their training.

The issue of licensing and law enforcement is under the jurisdiction of her committee, she said, as well as municipalities.

"We were only allowed one and we wanted three," said Harrison.

White said she wanted the flexibility so that people could become certified fire inspectors through different means, and not just taking a course.

Fox said there are three fire inspectors based at the state office in Springfield. "They are booked," he said, knowing there were often delays in getting state inspections for commercial buildings.

"It's an economic development issue," said Harrison. She said she knew of some businesses that couldn't open because they weren't yet inspected.

McGinnis, who is taking the class, said there hadn't been a class for a few years, creating demand.

White said she believed the problem was due to a lack of instructors, since they often come from local departments or sheriff's department.

"We don't have to have everyone go through the same training," she said, comparing it to medical doctors' training, in that doctors are licensed even though they go to different medical schools.

White said she had voted against a statewide rental registry, which she said was really a move to establish a statewide inspection system of rental properties.

While it was defeated in 2019, she predicted "it will come up again."

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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