POWNAL — The Select Board unanimously favored retail cannabis businesses in town, but remains undecided on whether Pownal should form a local cannabis control commission.
The board voiced support for retail businesses during a meeting last week, citing overwhelming approval for retail businesses, and cannabis cultivation and manufacturing operations in a townwide vote in 2021.
However, the board held off voting on a local commission; the vote will be placed on a future meeting agenda.
Options considered during past meetings include having an existing board, such as the Development Review Board or the Planning Commission, take on the role of a local cannabis commission, or forming a new board for that purpose.
While the Vermont Cannabis Control Board has final authority to issue licenses for a cannabis business, a local commission would provide a point of contact with the state on cannabis issues, supporters said, and could recommend related zoning conditions or revisions.
During a joint meeting June 16 with the Select Board, planners and DRB members, state Rep. Nelson Brownell, D-Bennington 1, spoke strongly in favor of a local commission.
Brownell acknowledged that licensing of cannabis businesses is done at the state level, but added, “I would strongly support a commission ... It just gives the community a voice.”
DRB member Joe Strohmaier proposed having that existing board take on the local cannabis review role. “I think the DRB could do what you’re asking,” he said during the meeting.
Brownell said he recommends having a range of officials and other citizens, with five to seven members, to give the local board “a wide view” on issues. Adding a doctor, a small business person or a lawyer would be a good idea, he said.
“I think it is tremendously important that we have a wide view,” said Select Board Chairman Michael Gardner.
The DRB would, however, play a key role in applying conditions on cannabis businesses, the officials agreed. Those would have to be conditions or zoning provisions that apply to all businesses equally and could not relate only to cannabis businesses.
Zoning provisions involving signage, nuisance issues and other provisions that apply to all businesses can be used, Brownell said.
He previously served for many years as the town zoning administrator and on the Select Board.
“I think you really need to read your zoning bylaw very carefully,” especially pertaining to businesses, he said.
The state cannabis board will take on the licensing issues, Brownell added, and act “as your first line of defense” for any potential violations of state law or regulation.