Towns weigh in on marijuana legalization

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BRATTLEBORO — Local towns are preparing for how taxed and regulated marijuana sales might look in their communities.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is asking municipalities to adopt resolutions calling for any legislation legalizing commercial cannabis to address impacts on town resources, school populations, first responders, municipal regulations and budgets; provide municipalities with local regulatory and taxation authority; allow voters to determine if communities should allow cannabis establishments; give local cannabis control commissions the same level of authority as local liquor control commissions; and grant authority to assess licensing and permitting fees for cannabis establishments.

The Brattleboro Select Board voted 4-0 to adopt a resolution Tuesday, supporting those ideas and a local cannabis tax of 5 percent in any community that opts in to hosting retail cannabis establishments. It also calls for "adequate time and clarity" for local officials and community members to discuss local implications. Board member Daniel Quipp was not present.

On the same night, the Rockingham Select Board also voted 4-0 to support the proposed resolution, but the board eliminated the provision on local taxation after a lengthy debate and not reaching consensus.

Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell said Vermont lawmakers are anticipated to approve "commercial cultivation, processing, distribution and sale of cannabis" in the state in the upcoming legislative session. Currently, possession of small amounts for personal use is allowed.

Elwell said legislators are debating if municipalities should be able to "opt in" or decide if they want to host cannabis retail establishments.

Board Vice Chairman Tim Wessel said the Senate and House are considering taxing cannabis at between 16 and 20 percent. Elwell said proposals in the Legislature would see towns getting 2 or 1 percent of that for administrative fees. The resolution looks for 5 percent with no administrative contribution.

"We're just trying to balance some level of fairness if it's going to be highly taxed like that," Wessel said.

Looking at other communities as example, Elwell noted that the town's police and planning departments will be largely affected. The Planning Services Department will need to see if businesses fit into spaces or neighborhoods based on land-use regulations.

Elwell said the Legislature is exploring how the board will act as commissioners in the same way it does for liquor licenses.

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Cassandra Holloway, executive director of Building A Positive Community, told the board the more control the town has, the better. Her group was formerly known as the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition.

In Rockingham, the debate focused on whether the town should endorse local taxation to take advantage of legalization.

Town Manager Wendy Harrison said some towns wanted to change the second paragraph in the resolution, which was prepared by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

"It's important for you to support this," she said, while suggesting the town leave its options open toward taxation.

Select Board member Susan Hammond said she felt the town should leave open the option of a local tax.

"This doesn't obligate you," Harrison said.

Harrison said the Vermont League of Cities and Towns' template would allow the towns to impose a local tax, since the law is expected to increase the need for town services, such as police and emergency response.

"Other towns are going to jump on this," said Select Board Chairman Peter Golec.

As of Thursday afteroon, the league had received confirmation that Guilford, Williston, Stowe, East Montpelier, Windsor, Richmond, Pittsford, Springfield and Topsham also adopted resolutions.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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