If the town of Stowe stays on its current course, no marijuana dispensaries will open in Stowe next year.
In Vermont, individual towns get to decide whether to allow voters to approve or deny retail cannabis and marijuana production facilities — or both — to operate.
Some towns have already chosen to allow retail cannabis while a handful voted against it, according to James Pepper, chair of the Cannabis Control Board, which was established by 2020 legislation to regulate adult use of marijuana in the state.
Towns that choose not to vote at all will, by default, prevent dispensaries from operating within their borders, and so far, Stowe plans to take that route, according to town manager Charles Safford.
“The selectboard has not advanced the question on its own motion, been requested to do so by any citizen or other party, or received a petition requiring them to do so,” Safford said about a vote at the next March Town Meeting.
Stowe Selectboard chair Billy Adams and member Jo Sabel Courtney did not return requests for comment. Board member Willie Noyes said the board had barely discussed the subject.
“I don’t know at this point,” Noyes said about a vote. “I think we had a brief discussion on it, but I don’t think we've had a vote on it.”
If the selectboard declines to put the question of dispensaries up for a vote, a petitioner could potentially force the matter by gathering the appropriate number of registered voters’ signatures, approximately 235, and must be received by the selectboard at least 47 days prior to town meeting, according to the Vermont Secretary of State’s office.
Surrounded by dispensaries
If the current strategy holds, Stowe will be conspicuously absent of dispensaries when retail cannabis comes to the Route 100 corridor next fall.
At a selectboard meeting in September, the town of Morristown said it would put the question up for a vote on the March Town Meeting Day ballot.
By having the board warn the article for the town meeting, board member Jess Graham said, it could host a public forum to provide information on the issue ahead of the vote.
The town has yet to determine what language it will use on the ballot or whether they’ll vote to allow cannabis retailers and integrated licensees, for a manufacturer and processing facilities, separately or together.
“I think we would rather drive the car,” board vice chair Gary Nolan said on the issue.
To Stowe’s south, the town of Waterbury already approved retail cannabis operations at their town meeting last March. The town already has at least one business looking to open a dispensary when licenses are issued next fall.
The application process will begin next year, with already-established medical marijuana dispensaries receiving full retail licenses in May and new retailers receiving licenses next October, according to Pepper.
Opportunity for others
Erik St. Croix owns Elevated State VT, the shop on Mountain Road in Stowe that sells all things CBD, or cannabidiol.
The shop, which opened in 2018, markets its products as holistic medicine. Though derived from the second-most prevalent chemical in marijuana, CBD is used to treat anxiety and chronic pain as a physical relaxant and doesn’t have the mental effects that THC does.
St. Croix said he knew some business owners were thinking of lobbying local leaders, while he’s taking a more “wait and watch” approach. If the town did vote to allow retail cannabis, he said he would be interested in obtaining a license but would only include cannabis as a small part of the wider array of products he currently offers, possibly even keeping it separated in a different area.
“I think a lot of people who use CBD for therapy don’t want to feel like they’re going into a pot store or a bong shop to get it,” he said. “So, I’m kind of letting the town do what they want to do and see if there’s room for me to work within their parameters rather than try to be a thorn in their side and make it happen if they don’t want it to.”
St. Croix does believe that Stowe would be a prime location for retail cannabis and visitors may be frustrated that legal marijuana can’t be bought in the town.
“I think people will come to Stowe and think they can buy it, get a little frustrated that they can’t and just drive to whichever town they have to drive to. Happens in Colorado all the time,” he said.
A dry Stowe means opportunity for a business like Zenbarn Farms in Waterbury. Like Elevated State VT, Zenbarn currently offers an array of CBD products, but they’re also already planning to apply for a license and open a cannabis dispensary in the town next fall.
“It’s definitely beneficial for us,” said Marlena Tucker-Fishman, one of the farm’s owners. “We’re located between two tourist destinations: the Ben & Jerry’s factory and Stowe. It’s optimal for us.”
Stowe won’t miss out on potential tax revenue. Towns that already have a local-option sales tax, which Stowe does not have, are allowed to tax the sale of marijuana. The fee dispensaries must pay in order to obtain the cannabis retail license would also mitigate any municipal costs involved with having a dispensary in town.
Though medical marijuana can be delivered to patients in Vermont, it’s currently prohibited for retail pot, though that could change in the future.
“I think what we’re going to do as a board is not just recommend ‘yes or no, you should do delivery,’” said Pepper. “What we’re going to do is actually propose a model for delivery. Because it seems like a simple concept, but there’s actually some nuance to how you do it. I think the idea would be, ‘Yes, you can deliver anywhere because it’s a legal product in Vermont, the people delivering it are licensed.’”
This would mean that dispensaries that open in Morristown and Waterbury in 2022 could potentially deliver to customers in Stowe if it’s made legal regardless of whether Stowe allows dispensaries.
Tucker-Fishman said she’s looking forward to the possibility of doing just that and St. Croix said he could foresee such a thing coming to pass.
“Delivery, they can’t stop,” St. Croix said. “So that just opens it up to neighboring towns delivering and deciding what it looks like first.”
This story was updated on Oct. 12, 2021. The original story stated that Stowe would benefit from a local-option sales tax for retail pot dispensaries, but Stowe does not have a local-option sales tax.