Chester board mulls cannabis sales, Historical Society loan, donation of old Jiffy Mart building

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing  LLC

At the request of one member, the Chester Select Board last Wednesday took up a lengthy discussion of whether the town should ban the sales of cannabis (marijuana) if pending legalization legislation passes the Vermont House in the next session.

Last January, the Vermont State Senate passed S.54, which would legalize, regulate and tax the sale of marijuana in the state. The law allows local municipalities to ban sales by a vote of those present at an annual or special meeting but not by an ordinance. The bill allows for local cannabis control commissions to handle permitting and local regulations and a 2 percent local option tax collected on sales.

Board member Lee Gustafson saying that the town’s rules should reflect its values. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

Lee Gustafson has asked for the conversation to be on an agenda for several months and he told the board that the town rules should “reflect the values of our town.” Gustafson and board chair Arne Jonynas both felt that the proposed law gave too little control and money to the locality, but disagreed on other points.

“I’d rather be able to say to the state, I don’t care what you say, this is what we want for our community,” said Gustafson, “as the select board, this is what we think is best for our community … there’s a lot of things that we don’t allow as a society because it’s just not good for people.”

Jonynas agreed, but noted that he didn’t want the state or the local government to tell him what to do in his private life. “Making things illegal is not the way to protect our kids,” said Jonynas. “Education is.” Jonynas also noted that there could be income for the town through taxing the sales.

Gustafson said that he was more interested in the philosophical discussion.

Board chair Arne Jonynas spoke against making things illegal to protect kids, favoring education instead

“So the next town over allows a dispensary and gets the tax money and in some ways we get the problem,” said Jonynas

“I don’t want to look at this from a strictly financial standpoint,” said Gustafson. “I want to look at the overall implications of it.”

Board member and former state Rep. Leigh Dakin pointed to the state’s limited legalization, noting that it was still illegal in federal law. “It’s still early,” said Dakin, who advised going to the legislature, keeping an eye on the issue and continuing to talk.

“I look at a country like Portugal which has legalized everything and their drug use has gone down, their crime has gone down related to drugs, seeking help for drug problems has increased,” said Jonynas said.

Hemp grower David Lewis advocates for a local, artisanal marijuana economy

Police Chief Rick Cloud told the board that law enforcement in Vermont urged the legislature to go slow, pointing to the lack of roadside testing for impairment, and saying that the legislature “rushed into this.”

Jonynas asked if there had been big changes since the laws legalized small possession and growing of marijuana.

“It’s about the same,” said Cloud.

Andover hemp grower David Lewis spoke in favor of a local marijuana economy as opposed to one dominated by large corporations and invited board members to the hemp information discussion held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of each month at the Southern Pie Cafe.

Jonynas suggested that the public contact members of the Select Board to tell them where they stand on the issue.

Historical society offers loans for renovated Town Hall

This speed metal sign was used at the school in the Stone Village Photo provided.

Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch offered the loan of a selection of Chester art work and memorabilia to decorate the newly renovated second floor of the Town Hall. These included the truck sideboards of “E.W. Spaulding Chester Auctioneer,” photos of Dr. Lauren and Abigail Whiting, who endowed the library, and a life-sized metal crossing guard in boots and jodhpurs holding a sign saying “School Drive Slowly” that had been used at the school house in the Stone Village.

Patch told the board that the society was spending its funds on preserving these items and thought the Town Hall was a good place to show them off. Town Manager David Pisha said that extra care should be taken in hanging valuable pictures and suggested that someone with some expertise in the area be found to do it.

The board thanked Patch and the society and they agreed that having the items on display for Town Meeting day would be good.

Then the subject turned to the renewal of the lease for the Academy Building, which has served as the home of the historical society.

Complications in hooking the Information Booth on Main Street to town sewer and the expense of pumping its holding tank several times during the summer and fall has turned the board’s attention to using the bathrooms at the entrance of the building.

Ron Patch points to a spot where he would place one of the pieces the Historical Society plans to lend the town

Executive Assistant Julie Hance informed the board that an estimate for repairing plaster damage from roof leaks was $47,000 and Patch noted that Preservation Trust of Vermont’s easement would mean that they would not be able to use sheetrock to repair the damage. Board member Ben Whalen suggested that if the town has to make an investment he would rather it be in the Academy Building than the information booth.

Hance told the board she had learned of a grant through Preservation Trust – named for its late, longtime director Paul Bruhn – that would help finish fixing the leaky roof and that with a tight deadline she applied for it without asking them first. The board agreed they did not have a problem with that and put off any more discussion of the lease until Harry Goodell – representing the historical society – could be present.

Jiffy Mart donation

Pisha told the board that he had received a call that afternoon from Tony Cairns of Champlain Oil.

The former Jiffy Mart has been empty since it closed on Oct. 11, 2016

“He said that his company had been trying to sell the former Jiffy Mart building without success and he wondered if the Select Board would entertain the idea of them donating it to the town,” said Pisha.

The board agreed that it would like more details and look at what costs would come with the donation.

Hance suggested accepting the donation and then starting a process of generating ideas for its use.

Whalen asked what the property tax implications would be.

“I would encourage that conversation,” said Jonynas, “keep us informed.”

“I told (Cairns) that the next meeting is the first Wednesday in December, and that would give him time to put together some kind of proposal,” said Pisha

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  1. Kudos to Chester for taking up this conversation. Mr. Gustafson is a visionary for calling an alignment with town values as the compass for the decision making. What are the towns values?

    It is also important to get the facts straight about Mr. Jonyas’s reference to Portugal. VT currently has more progressive laws pertaining to marijuana than Portugal does. Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2001 and VT decriminalized marijuana in 2013. VT legalized personal possession of marijuana in July of this year and it remains illegal in Portugal. VT has had medical marijuana laws since the late 2000s and Portugal only recently adopted such a law.

    In addition, Portugal made significant investments into drug policies including harm reduction efforts, doubling investments in drug treatment and drug prevention services, and changing the legal framework for dealing with minor drug offenses. They also have invested in paying for housing and salaries for folks in recovery.

    Unless our state is willing to fully adopt the Portugal model as a drug prevention strategy, I don’t think we can use it to justify decisions on marijuana policy for Vermonters. Currently, the state of VT invests $0 of alcohol, tobacco, vaping taxes into prevention or education.

    What do other citizens think about this issue? Are other towns taking up this conversation?

  2. John Holme says:

    Very good discussion of cannabis with Lee, Arne & Leigh. Chester is fortunate to have such thoughtful people on the board. I can see both sides of the issue, but since I’m now Springfield voter, I no longer have a say.