Regulating retail cannabis

‘Put them right in the middle of town’

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard will consider using zoning bylaws to restrict the location of retail cannabis stores after the legalization earlier this month of cannabis sales in Vermont. 

On Tuesday, Planning Director Matt Boulanger advised the board to steer cannabis stores into the town’s retail core, instead of in the industrial zone where the town previously restricted medical marijuana dispensaries to.

Under current zoning, retail cannabis would be allowed anywhere the retailing of any product is permitted, including in the industrial zone on the west side of town, in the village and in the Taft Corners area. Under the legalization law, no retail licenses will be issued until 2022, after a three-member Cannabis Control Board is in place and its statewide regulations set. 

But Boulanger told board members Tuesday that “now is the time to start thinking about enhancing zoning regulations” around retail cannabis. He said the town’s retail core in Taft Corners would be the best place for cannabis shops, suggesting that the higher rents and increased visibility compared to the industrial zoning district would help ensure higher quality operations.

“It’s better to put them right in the middle of town where it’s integrated with other things and there are eyes on the street,” he said. 

With two board members absent from Tuesday’s meeting, board chairman Terry Macaig said the board would discuss potential cannabis-specific zoning changes at a future meeting and ask the planning commission to further study possibilities. 

“I like the idea of being proactive,” board member Jeff Fehrs said.

The law requires a municipality to opt in before retail cannabis stores can operate. Opting in requires majority approval in a townwide ballot vote, either at Town Meeting Day or in a special election. The selectboard has the authority to place a cannabis opt-in question on a ballot as soon as the upcoming Town Meeting Day in March of 2021. Citizens can also petition to have the question placed on a ballot. 

The law taxes cannabis sales at 20 percent. That revenue will go to the state, with municipalities only receiving revenue if they have enacted a 1 percent local sales tax on all retail sales, which Williston has. In addition to regulating the location of cannabis stores, zoning regulations can also be used to keep stores a certain distance away from schools and child care centers and a certain distance away from each other. But some of that authority may be subject to rules set by the Cannabis Control Board, Boulanger said.