Town of St. Albans, VT

ST. ALBANS TOWN — Will the Town of St. Albans allow cannabis sales within its borders? Town Selectboard members could be leaving that decision to the voters.

Selectboard Chair Brendan Deso asked the board members to weigh in on the possibility of adding the question as a ballot article during the board’s Monday night meeting, and by its conclusion, the five board members agreed that the question should be posed to town voters.

“At the end of the day, a ballot article is just our way of allowing the community to make the decision for itself,” Deso said.

Most board members agreed that they didn’t like that cannabis sales will be legalized in Vermont, but now that sales are coming down the line in 2022, the town should be getting ahead of the question in order to prepare for its impact. 

“I think what a vote could do is more than just putting it on the agenda for us to talk about. I think it will engage the public,” board member Erin Creley said “I think just to spur the conversation, you know, regardless of the outcome I think it might be a helpful exercise.”

State Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin, who also works as the town’s director of operations, said the town will have to respond to the question eventually as the state legislature is pushing cannabis initiatives forward. While he’s not in support of cannabis legalization, Parent said he would like to see the town be able to pull in revenue from sales.

Since the state legislature is taking steps to regulate cannabis, marijuana will most likely join the ranks of other substances, like cigarettes, that have high taxes to curb use. Currently set to be taxed at a 20% rate, Parent said the legislature is considering adding the ability for local municipalities to increase the cannabis tax rate to pull in additional revenue. 

Under the cannabis regulation law passed in 2020, local municipalities can only pull in revenue from local licensing fees.

Board members felt similarly about the opportunity to gain revenue from cannabis sales. 

“I would like to see it on the ballot if it means we could generate some more revenue from the tax,” board member Jonathan Giroux said.

Board member Bryan DesLauriers said he’s already seen the plant being grown on the front and back porches of private residences, and he doesn’t mind if adults decide to use cannabis. However, he expressed reservations about children being exposed to the drug. He asked if the town could be proactive in finding ways to limit where cannabis sales can occur, such as away from schools.

Deso said he would support such efforts via zoning changes, and he would also like to make certain signage, such as the cannabis leaf symbol, prohibited in the town.

To inform the vote, Vice Chair Jessica Frost said she’d like to see a community forum where the pros and cons can be discussed in a neutral setting.

“I’m not a fan of having it in the town, but I do think it should probably be a community decision,” she said.

To put it on the ballot in time for Town Meeting Day, the town will need to approve the ballot article by late January.

“I think we are all fairly on the same page,” Deso said. “Put it on the ballot, let’s go through the exercise. Let’s make sure as we do it, the town maintains a point of neutrality. I would say to provide information to the pros and cons by means of the public forum.”

By Josh Ellerbrock of the St. Albans Messenger. Link to the original story here.