Stowe might have a vote on the March Town Meeting Day ballot to allow retail cannabis operations when the state starts permitting them next fall, but it won’t be a homegrown measure from the town selectboard.
The board Monday was asked to place the article on the annual meeting ballot by a group of residents calling itself the Stowe Retail Cannabis Coalition, but decided if the coalition wanted it, it would have to petition the town to do so.
The coalition’s unofficial spokesperson, Scott Weathers, told the town ahead of the meeting that the group had already started the petition, but figured they’d see if the board wanted to just go ahead and put it on the ballot.
“It’s important to recognize that legal cannabis is already the law of the land in Vermont. So, what we’re asking for here is just for the selectboard to allow Stowe residents to have a say on retail cannabis on the ballot,” Weathers said. “Retail cannabis can enhance Stowe’s reputation as a tourist destination, and we think it can generate a ton of revenue.”
Board member Lisa Hagerty said it doesn’t make sense to her to fast-track this, as if there’s a worry about being the first or the only retail shop in town.
“What’s the rush?” Hagerty asked, noting that if Stowe were to open a second liquor store, for instance, it would probably do just fine.
Weathers said with Morristown and Waterbury approving the measure, shops could open “right on our border,” and get an early competitive advantage.
“I do think there’s a sense of urgency here, from a business standpoint,” he said.
However, even if the board isn’t on board, a successful petition drive will mean the town still ought to get out in front of the issue and educate the populace.
“We would have to get organized very quickly,” board chair Billy Adams said. “That’s a big ask to try to turn this around in a year or less.”
Added board member Willie Noyes, “Especially when we don’t know what the state is going to come up with for regulations.
Stowe resident Catherine Crawley suggested taking a page out of the playbook Woodstock is using. She said that town also has cannabis retail on the Town Meeting Day ballot, but the selectboard there set up a committee that has been meeting monthly to discuss the issue. Stowe has had virtually no planning at the public level.
“There are so many unknowns with the regulation, what the vision is that we want for our town, and not just the tourists, but the people that live here in our community,” she said.
Board member Nick Donza questioned how retail cannabis would be a boon to the tourist town, since there are so many restrictions on pot consumption and transportation. He said even in Vermont, you’re only allowed to partake in your own home, or on someone else’s private property.
“If you’re a tourist to our town, you don’t necessarily have a home. So, are you smoking in your hotel room? Are you smoking in an Airbnb? Are you unaware that there are rules buying at a shop and then smoking in your car?” Donza wondered. “I just don’t understand how that fits with the current rules of consumption.”
Tiffany Donza, a member of the Lamoille South schoolboard — and Nick’s wife — had submitted a resolution opposing retail cannabis shops in Morristown. The school board adopted that resolution last month, ahead of Morristown’s vote last week allowing the shops.
Tiffany Donza forwarded that resolution to the Stowe Selectboard ahead of Monday’s meeting, but the school board has yet to take up a similar resolution regarding Stowe. She said the rules around retail cannabis are still too green for towns to responsibly jump on board.
“I can’t wrap my head around a town opting into a system where the rules are not set,” she said.
In other business, the town was donated roughly $50,000 for a new scholarship fund for the town’s parks and recreation department.
The Bunny Libby Scholarship Fund is named in memory of Joan “Bunny” Libby, who died in 2018 but who served on the Stowe Recreation Commission for 17 years.
The money is a rough estimate because it comes in a unique format: Bunny’s husband Ken Libby has donated 800 shares of stock in Exxon Mobil and, as of the end of November the stocks were worth $63.13 a share, or $50,504.
Libby said his wife was keen on making sure youth participated in recreation programs, “and if there was a kid who couldn’t afford it, she’d pay for it.”
Adams said, in thanking Libby for the gift, “I’m usually not at a loss for words, but I am this time.”