MANCHESTER — A petition seeking to force a vote on whether the town will accept retail sales of cannabis under state law was still gaining signatures as of press time Wednesday.
Town Clerk Anita Sheldon said the deadline for petitions on the town meeting warning is Thursday, Jan, 13 at 5 p.m. Under the state’s tax and regulate law, retail cannabis is allowed in a town if its voters decide to opt in. Advocates on the Northshire Community Forum have been asking residents to sign the petitions, available at a number of area businesses.
The petition seeks votes on two topics: whether the town would allow retail sales, and whether the town would allow an “integrated license” — one that allows for the license holder to cultivate, manufacture and sell cannabis products.
Meanwhile, town planners are looking ahead to the possibility of cannabis businesses in town — and where they should and should not be allowed to do business.
The Planning Commission began pondering that question Monday night. Though the board took no votes, members said the retail and commercial mixed-use sections in downtown Manchester Center might be a wise starting point.
Retail sales of cannabis products containing THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana that provides its “high” — are due to begin in Vermont in October. Under the state law allowing the regulation and taxing of cannabis sales, towns must vote to opt in.
Those zoning districts are areas where the sale and consumption of alcohol is allowed under the current land-use laws. Board members thought that could provide consistency, as well as guardrails.
“My gut is we should treat it like alcohol,” commission Chairman Greg Boshart said. “I wouldn’t want alcohol everywhere, like I wouldn’t want gas stations everywhere.”
“My feeling is the same,” member Phil Peterson added.
People under the age of 21 will not be allowed in cannabis retail shops. But commission members expressed concerns about having such stores near schools, as well as the normalizing of cannabis use through legal sales.
Town Planning and Zoning Director Janet Hurley said, in a conversation with Manchester Police Chief Patrick J. Owens, that the chief indicated “he’d like to see this somewhere ... police can keep an eye on things. If it proves not a problem, we could expand it to other districts.”
Hurley opened the conversation with an important clarification: Regardless of whether the town votes to opt in on cannabis retail sales, production, manufacturing and other businesses are still allowed under the law, she said. She’s already heard from entrepreneurs interested in locating such operations in Manchester.
Where those other businesses might operate also can be addressed through the land-use bylaws.
“We should get ahead of this,” Hurley said. “If the vote is affirmative, this commission should get out ahead of it so we at least have some controls.”