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POWNAL — The Select Board and other town officials are debating whether Pownal should set up a local cannabis commission to ensure close communication with state officials when retail marijuana operations are proposed in the town.

During a recent joint meeting of the Select Board, Planning Commission and Development Review Board, officials discussed the role such a local board would play in reviewing retail proposals, along with the possible composition of the board.

A second joint board meeting on those issues is scheduled for June 16, said town Executive Assistant Tara Parks, who was designated the contact person for cannabis-related issues in Pownal.

Pownal officials acknowledged that licensing of retail marijuana shops would remain with the Vermont Cannabis Control Board, which is expected to begin issuing retail sale licenses for cannabis products in October. But officials said having a local board could ensure the town is aware of pending decisions and application details throughout the licensing process.

Pownal has had several inquiries from persons considering applying for a retail business in town.

COULD BE FIRST

If Pownal does establish a local cannabis board, it might be the first in Bennington County, said Catherine Bryars, director of planning with the Bennington County Regional Commission.

“I haven’t heard about any town in the region pursuing the establishment of a local cannabis control commission,” Bryars said in an email. “I understand the subject came up in Manchester’s discussion about cannabis-related zoning changes.”

But she said other communities in the state have considered a local board, which is allowed but not required under the legislation legalizing production and sale of cannabis products.

“It may be helpful to note that a local cannabis control commission does not have to be a stand-alone citizen board,” she said. “The most common model across the state for this board will likely be what municipalities already have in place for liquor licensing; the select board/board of trustees serves as the licensing board and reviews license applications on a rolling basis as part of their usual business.”

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During the initial discussion in Pownal, options considered included having an existing board – such as the Select Board or Planning Commission – assume the secondary role of cannabis commission, or creating a new town board for that one purpose.

INFORMATION SESSION

Bryars said that a recent information session on the licensing process, hosted by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the state Cannabis Control Board, “confirmed that a municipality with a local CCC will have a more formalized way to certify compliance with local regulations than a municipality without a local CCC.”

She said the state board, in reviewing state license applications for commercial cannabis establishments, “will require a copy of the license issued by a local CCC before granting a state permit. When reviewing applications in municipalities without a CCC, the Cannabis Control Board will only require that applicants attest to following all local permitting requirements.”

She added, “After a state license is granted, a municipality could report to the CCB if the applicant did not obtain or is in violation of a local zoning permit, but this process would occur after an applicant is granted their state license. That may be a motivating factor for towns that wish to formalize their certification of local compliance before a state permit is granted.”

Local commissions are only authorized to condition licenses based on compliance with local zoning, sign, and nuisance ordinances.

ZONING ISSUES

Manchester apparently is the only town in this region that has pursued zoning changes that specify where retail operations may be located. In general, no zoning provisions can be added for marijuana businesses that do not apply equally to all businesses.

Towns could decide not to allow the option of state-licensed cannabis retail businesses and must vote as a community to approve the option. Pownal voters did that in 2021.

Bennington, Manchester and Winhall are among the other communities that have opted to allow retail sales, Bryars said.

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three Vermont News and Media newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield Republican, and the former North Adams Transcript.


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