Chester board opts for remote Town Meeting; kicks cannabis vote down the road

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

For the second year in a row, the Chester Select Board has concluded that putting the question of allowing retail sales of cannabis before the voters needs more board discussion, although they may look at it on Wednesday, Jan. 19, the final day before they must finalize the Town Meeting Day warning.

Town Manager Julie Hance explains that towns can again opt to hold remote Town Meeting when legislation is signed. Images courtesy SAPA TV

At the same time, and with little discussion, the board decided to hold the annual meeting remotely and vote only by Australian ballot, as was done last year, pending the governor’s signature on the measure allowing it  — S. 172.

At a special meeting last Jan. 25, the board dropped the agenda item “DISCUSSION RE: CANNABIS OPT-IN FOR TOWN WARNING” saying it would discuss the subject in the future. The reasoning was that it would be better to discuss it in a regular meeting rather than in a special meeting held on a Monday afternoon. The board went on to approve last year’s Town Meeting warning without the cannabis vote. Minutes of that meeting also say that the board will discuss it in the future.

This is the “opt-in” feature of the state’s cannabis regulations in which municipalities must vote to allow sales and may establish cannabis control boards to set up and enforce town specific regulations.

Since then, none of the intervening 29 select board agendas has had a discussion of the cannabis opt-in vote. But last Wednesday, board member Heather Chase brought up the prospective cannabis retail vote during the discussion of old business, saying that she did not want the meeting to end without a discussion of it.

Board chair Arne Jonynas acknowledged that they had set it aside last year and noted that it seemed that the state’s cannabis board had not even been named. Other members said they still did not have enough information to discuss the subject although all agreed that it was up to the voters – under state law – to decide whether to allow retail sales in town or not.

Board members Jeff Holden, left, and Lee Gustafson agreed it was up to the public to decide but did not want to rush the vote

There were a number of questions about the law and its effects on the town and Chase asked if there was someone at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns who could speak to the board and answer their questions. Town Manager Julie Hance said she would call VLCT to see if that could be set up.

Most members acknowledged that the decision is up to the voters. However, while Jeff Holden and Lee Gustafson took a “let’s not rush into this” stance, Jonynas and Chase said that if someone wanted to start such a business in Chester, they would benefit from knowing the outcome of the vote so they could get the necessary paperwork in motion. The first retail stores are scheduled to open in October.

Gustafson, who is normally an advocate for the views of small business, felt that a startup could begin after October.

The Telegraph asked if the subject could be petitioned to the March ballot. Hance said such a petition would need the signatures of 5 percent of the voters of the town. According to Town Clerk Deb Aldrich that would be between 125 and 130 signatures from people who are currently registered to vote. The question, according to state law is simply: “Shall the town authorize cannabis retailers in town pursuant to 7 VSA § 863?” Deadline for handing in such a petition to Town Hall is by end of business, Thursday, Jan. 13 at 5 p.m.

 

 

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  1. Becky Parker says:

    I’d also argue that if you’re concerned about attracting young families, the town should consider having more sidewalks and affordable housing.

  2. Becky Parker says:

    Oh and you know what would really make young families happy?

    Sidewalks. I’ve seen high school kids walking on the side of the road and you think cannabis would make the town look bad????

  3. Becky Parker says:

    You didn’t read nor comprehend what I said. It is a rejection of change that I am against, I am also against ignoring the will of the people. And the people said they wanted retail marijuana to be accessible to Americans in this Veridian State. I didn’t say your comment was flatlander nonsense, I said rejecting change because you or other “”””real Vermonters”””” consider any progressive change to be flatlander nonsense.

    Again, you failed to consider that voters already weighed the outcomes of making cannabis available in retail shops. I think sales would be beneficial to the community, studied also show increased access to cannabis reduces rates of opioid use and subsequent deaths from overdose. Since we’re too worried about the image of the town to even have a rehab in nearby Ludlow, the least we can do for addicts is provide relief. And you do have them in Chester no matter how much you ignore them for the sake of convenience. What about their quality of life? If you realize that other towns will inevitably have it (though I don’t want to drive over 2 hours to the city we know for a fact will absolutely have it) what’s really your problem here? That more black people will show up?…

    I was attracted here before it was legal for retail sales, and if we don’t get in on an obvious cash flow for the town I will pick up an leave. I don’t want to be in a town that ignores voters who already weighed the pros and cons and said YES to retail cannabis.

    Cannabis stores in town won’t deter young families, I’m speaking as someone that’s going to be married soon and seeking to start a family myself. Don’t speak on my behalf just because you’re afraid of what you don’t understand. I voted for this. I am a member of a young family. I want a job in this industry and I can see exactly how the town will benefit. You know stoners eat a lot of food right?

    Again, I don’t think racist cops attract many full time residents either. You have interestingly avoided that fact. We could easily double the money wasted on that with cannabis sales. Fyi.

  4. Robert Nied says:

    Under Act 164, the voters in every town will have an opportunity to approve or reject opt-in for retail cannabis sales. This mechanism was established as an acknowledgement that towns have a right to evaluate the retail sale of cannabis relative to their own town master plan, zoning by-laws and overall planning goals. The opt in/out vote does not impact the provisions of ACT 164 which apply to growers/farmers. Indoor, outdoor, large, and small growers of cannabis for retail sale are regulated by the State Cannabis Control Board, not the town. As to tax revenue, under the current provisions of ACT 164, the bulk of the tax revenue goes to the state and is legislatively directed to specific state programs, including programs to address substance abuse and to offset licensing fees. It is also important to note that once a town votes to opt-in, the only control it can exercise over cannabis businesses is through local zoning and nuisance laws. In the case of Chester, updates to local zoning have been contentiously debated for several years, and no final version has been adopted. The question as to if retail cannabis establishments would encourage or discourage people from moving to the community is certainly an important one and hopefully it can be debated civilly and respectfully and would include a consideration of impacts on current businesses, property values, cost of community services (CoCS) and public safety/law enforcement. If attracting new residents to town is indeed a priority, I wonder how referring to a comment that simply calls for careful consideration of an issue as “flatlander nonsense” can make people feel welcome in our community?

  5. Becky Parker says:

    I find your assertion that voters didn’t consider the pros and cons already to be insulting. We have made our considerations, and we said YES on retail cannabis. We said yes to more tax revenue. Yes to more jobs. Yes to farming. Yes to having funds for real community improvements that will benefit all of us, and not just a self centered few. Worrying about “community character” is an odd statement as well. What does it say about our community character when the town is out 50k because one of our cops racially profiled someone ? What does a stagnant select board of business owners against mask mandates say about our community character? You want more people to move here, but you’re not letting them have a say, reducing all ideas for positive change as “flatlander nonsense”. Comments like that make me want to leave.

  6. Robert Nied says:

    It is important to note that the question at hand is not should or shouldn’t retail cannabis sales be allowed, as the legislature has already approved such sales in VT. Given that many surrounding towns have already, or will likely, approve retail cannabis sales, access to cannabis will also not be an issue. What is important is whether such sales would be beneficial to the community. Hopefully, the select board and ultimately the voters, will carefully consider the impact of retail cannabis businesses on existing businesses, community character, safety, and the ability of the town to not only attract tourists but also to attract and retain full-time residents, and especially young families who will be comfortable and involved in the community. Discussions of tax revenue windfalls and benefits to a few local businesses should be balanced by a long-term and sustainable vision for all of Chester and the quality of life of its residents.

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