MONTPELIER – On Town Meeting Day, voters in at least eight Vermont towns will decide whether or not their municipalities should allow recreational marijuana businesses.
The rollout process has been unique to each individual town. In Burlington, there’s been extensive conversation about racial equity when it comes to the emerging retail marijuana market, as well as ensuring small, local farms have a chance to succeed.
Geoffrey Pizzutillo, Executive Director and Cofounder of the Vermont Growers Association, said he’s worked with Justice For All Vermont and other organizations to draft the ballot language in Burlington and several other towns.
“We’d consider Burlington passing this as exemplary for the rest of the state,” Pizzutillo said. “We think if we can get this opt-in language passed in as many towns as possible, it would be beneficial for the state as a whole.”
The Vermont Growers Association is one of several advocacy groups that have formed a coalition in the interest of setting new standards for equity, reparations, inclusivity and representation in Vermont’s retail marijuana market.
In September, the Vermont House and Senate both approved a system of taxed and regulated retail sales. Individual municipalities, however, must vote to opt-in before recreational retail locations can open in 2022. Under Act 165, existing medical marijuana dispensaries can obtain ‘integrated licenses’ to sell recreational marijuana in May of next year, while others can’t do so until October 2022.
In Burlington, medical dispensaries wouldn’t be able to sell recreational marijuana until October 2022 like everyone else.
“We don’t necessarily call it a win, we consider it progress, but it attempts to reduce that staggered licensing that we see at the State level to allow for small businesses, BIPOC and farms to enter the market at a more equal time, not equitable but more equal,” Pizzutillo said. “We also got that passed in Waterbury, Danville and a couple of other towns.”
When the Legislature passed the framework for a retail market last year, they suggested further amendments could be on the way in 2021. The first attempt, S.25, is an eight page bill that would require towns to put the question of retail sales on the ballot by March 2022 among other changes.
“That compels each town to do that, but that doesn’t eliminate the issue, and the issue with opt-in is the act of each individual town opting in and potentially creating a confusing patchwork of different policies, and we see this in other states,” Pizzutillo said.
The bill would also require the recently-created Cannabis Control Board to consider reduced license fees for people who have been disproportionately impacted by decades of cannabis prohibition, and requires that 25 percent of sold marijuana to be obtained by a small cultivator.
As of Monday afternoon, the following Vermont towns are confirmed to have a vote on retail marijuana sales: Burlington, Brattleboro, Montpelier, Middlebury, Brandon, Winooski, Danville and Waterbury.