After City Council approval of ballot language Wednesday night, Montpelier voters will decide on Town Meeting Day — less than two months away — whether or not to allow retail marijuana sales in the city next year.
Back in September, the Vermont House and Senate both approved a system of taxed and regulated retail sales. Gov. Phil Scott allowed the bill to become law in October without signing it.
“I think we (in Montpelier) want to make the determination early in this process — do we want retail cannabis? If we don’t., that’s OK; I have no desire to introduce it a second time,” Councilor Conor Casey said. “But if we do, let’s go through the motions of doing it right.”
Marijuana, and its byproducts, will have a 20% total state markup — a 14% state excise tax and a 6% state sales tax. By 2025, pot sales are expected to generate $13.3 to $24.2 million in state revenue each year.
However, will local taxes or fees be added to that? According to Virginia Renfrew, a consultant who helped get Vermont’s law passed, that depends on whether there’s already a local option tax.
“If you have a local tax — which I think is 1% — if you have that in place right now, then you can apply that to the cannabis retail store,” she said. “My understanding, if you’re a town who doesn’t have that, you can’t put it in after the store comes in.”
It’s unclear if Montpelier would have a local marijuana tax. It already has a local option tax on meals, rooms and alcohol, but it doesn’t have a local option sales tax. Police Chief Brian Peete added that marijuana legislation may be moving faster than law enforcement can keep up with.
“In my previous assignment, when marijuana was legalized, we always saw burglaries and robberies at dispensaries, so I would say to make sure we’re looking at security practices,” he said.
Montpelier’s Town Meeting Day vote on March 2 won’t only be about stand-alone retail shops. A medical marijuana dispensary is already doing business in the capital city. Because of that, voters will consider not only retail licenses, but integrated licenses allowing anyone already running a dispensary to also expand into retail.
Businesses with an integrated license can begin selling pot in May of next year.
Anyone with a retail license can start five months after that, in October 2022.