Christian Engel, co-owner of Ratu's Liquor and Market in Wilmington, holds a petition calling for a community-wide vote on allowing retail cannabis sales in Wilmington. 

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WILMINGTON — A local liquor store and market called on residents to sign a petition to trigger a community-wide vote on allowing retail cannabis in town.

“It’s official!” Ratu’s Liquor and Market announced via Facebook. “We are seeking our CANNABIS license!”

The first step, Ratu’s said, is to get on the warning for annual Town Meeting in March. The store’s goal is to get signatures from 90 registered Wilmington voters.

Town Clerk Therese Lounsbury confirmed the petition started being circulated Wednesday.

“They’re in the process of collecting signatures,” she said. “They need 5 percent of the voter population so they need 82 signatures.”

Christian Engel, co-owner of Ratu’s Liquor and Market, anticipates he’ll have all the necessary signatures by the weekend. As of about 2:15 p.m. Thursday, he had about 60 as well as what he called an “overwhelming response” on social media.

“I know that it will be beneficial to the community financially,” he said, but he’s also looking to forward to being able “to offer people this plant, which is — not to sound cheesy — but magical from the roots to the top. For what it provides people, it’s more than just a plant. It’s medicine just like CBD is. We definitely pride ourselves on bedside manner and we’re going to duplicate that when cannabis comes.”

Most of the CBD or cannabidiol customers at Ratu’s are senior citizens who didn’t want to be involved with cannabis, Engel said. He described spending time talking with and educating the older clientele about the product, which he touts as being life changing for himself.

Engel noted the store is not near any churches or schools. He wants to be mindful when retrofitting the back of the building and said he is in talks with the local prevention coalition Deerfield Valley Community Partnership on what it doesn’t want to see from cannabis retailers.

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The plan, Engel said, is to invest in a good ventilation system “so the shop and town doesn’t smell like fresh dank bud,” and customers can buy shoes or clothes without smelling like cannabis.

Brattleboro, Jamaica and Londonderry have already approved retail cannabis sales. Such sales are anticipated to begin in October 2022.

Engel called the new revenue source for Vermont “amazing.” He suggested the extra funds could be used to help eradicate hunger and homelessness, noting that Wilmington has a 1 percent local option sales tax dedicated to economic and community development projects.

Since purchasing the Horizon Inn on Route 9 in Wilmington with his wife Jennifer Betit-Engel late last year, Engel estimated getting asked by 60 to 70 local people if they could rent a room on a long-term basis. Participating in the Lions Club, the couple has only watched food insecurity get worse over the years.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Windham-6, who also serves as vice chairman of the Wilmington Select Board, said he’s glad to see the couple taking the legal approach by taking out a petition.

“I think it’s up to the voters if they think it’s appropriate or not,” he said.

Having met with the Ratu’s owners to discuss the prospect and walked through the store to get an idea of how the operation will work, Gannon said he thinks it’s good that they understand how a regulated business works since they have run a liquor store.

“I think it’s good that they’re taking the lead on this rather than someone who doesn’t have the regulatory background they do because it’s going to be highly regulated,” he said. “They’ve been successful. They’re committed to the town. That’s good to see rather than some corporation come in that has no attachment to the town.”

Gannon said Betit-Engel and Engel have children so he’s sure they also understand the need for safeguards.


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