Though the question didn’t make it onto the ballot this March, the Stowe Planning Commission is looking ahead on retail cannabis and setting the table for its eventual presence in town.
“We just want to be prepared with interim zoning, because in my understanding — and keep in mind that nobody really knows how all this is going to unfold and happen in each town — is that if someone brings it to petition, then the town will have to vote on it. So, if that happens, when that happens, we just want to be prepared for the planning that is going to be needed,” commission chair Mila Lonetto said.
Though the commission is very much still in the discussion phase, and nothing has been brought before the selectboard yet, discussions have touched on where a retail cannabis shop could be located, parking and sign requirements, and the distance between other businesses and public places like churches and parks.
Vermont cannabis shops come with some baked-in regulations regarding how close they can be to schools and some of the strictest advertising regulations among the states where marijuana has been legalized. Zoning is one of the only real mechanisms that towns can use to assert control over how shops operate within a town.
A local-option sales tax would allow some towns to draw some profit from retail cannabis shops locally, but Stowe’s hospitality tax would not.
While a petition to get the retail cannabis question on the ballot was rumored, it never made it onto the ballot, leaving Stowe among the holdout Vermont towns waiting to see how the first year of retail cannabis will materialize.
The permitting process is underway, though cannabis growing permits have already hit a snag and are developing a backlog. The plan now is to let retail cannabis shops that were not already providing medical cannabis to open in October; medical cannabis providers are able to start selling to all adults over 21 on May 1.
This means that as soon as October, Stowe could find itself surrounded by towns that allow retail cannabis, with Waterbury, Cambridge and Morristown having voted to allow them within their borders, a sign that the businesses may be coming to Stowe sooner rather than later.
“Obviously, the planning commission is not pro-cannabis, or anti-cannabis or pro-retail shop or anti-retail shops. We’re thinking about how to successfully navigate this whole process,” Lonetto said.
She emphasized that these zoning regulations are in the draft stage and extended an open invitation to members of the public to weigh in. The planning commission will continue to discuss retail cannabis regulations at its next remote meeting on Monday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m.