Lauzon rolls out local pot ordinance

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo

BARRE — A conversation over whether to require Granite City residents to obtain municipal licenses before growing marijuana for their personal use is about to begin in Barre. Mayor Thomas Lauzon on Monday circulated a draft ordinance to members of the Barre City Council in advance of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall. It intentionally isn’t warned as a “first reading” and the proposal must be read at least twice and be the subject of a public hearing if the council is interested in adopting any form of Lauzon's initiative. Councilors expressed some trepidation about the idea last week, but indicated they would withhold judgment until reviewing a specific proposal. Lauzon provided that Monday, submitting a draft ordinance that would require those interested in cultivating marijuana under a state law that will go into effect July 1, to pay the city for the privilege. First-time licensees would be charged $250, while annual renewals — at least to start — would cost $100. Under Lauzon's proposal, those interested in using “grow lights” or any other artificial light source would be required to obtain the approval of an electrician before receiving a license from the city. Failure to do so would be subject to a $500 fine for a first offense and $1,000 for any additional offenses that occurred during a 12-month period. There are no waiver fees in the proposed ordinance and fines could be assessed to those unaware that the ordinance exists. The proposal would give city officials, including law enforcement, broad discretion to conduct “reasonable compliance inspections” in those dwellings that had licenses. Those inspections are defined in the draft as, “a thorough inspection of the interior and exterior of all lands and buildings for the purposes of detecting any breach of security, code violations, maintenance violations, or physical deficiencies.” The language recommended by Lauzon contemplates the creation of a registry of license-holders and locations where marijuana is being cultivated that would not be made available to the public without a court order. Lauzon has acknowledged that, given the public nature of most municipal records, ensuring privacy could be problematic. Though the proposed ordinance would require the licenses to be displayed by those who receive them, Lauzon said he believed a good case can be made for keeping the information private.We don’t want to broadcast where everyone is growing marijuana, because if you want marijuana and you’re a kid and you can’t grow your own, what are you going to do?” he asked, answering his own question.If we tell you where it is, you're going to steal it,” he said. Councilors Brandon Batham and John LePage said they had other concerns about who would have access to a list of license holders. Batham said he didn’t think the information should be shared with law enforcement — it would under Lauzon's proposal — and was particularly concerned it could wind up in the hands of a federal government that has signaled its intent to crack down on a drug that will soon be legal for Vermonters to grow and possess in small quantities.I want to be very careful knowing the national climate and the tone that has been set by the Trump administration on this issue,” Batham said. LePage said he shared Batham’s concern and worried that creating a local licensing requirement could have unintended consequences.I just can see it as a bad rabbit hole to go down,” he said. “It’s going to be a bad situation for anyone who thinks they’re following the local law and, suddenly, their name ends up in the hands of a federal enforcement individual. That’s a really genuine concern.” Lauzon’s justification for the proposed ordinance is twofold, and both involve public safety. He has complained about the vague language of the law that requires those who cultivate marijuana for their personal use to do so in an area that is screened and secure without defining those terms or creating a mechanism to, “make sure people are playing by the rules and growing safely.”There’s no marijuana police,” he said. Lauzon said he is equally concerned about the potential proliferation of “electrified grow operations” in a state with a short growing season that will require most to at least start their plants indoors.Our fire department takes a great interest in that,” he said, noting that “grow lights” in closets and basements could pose a fire hazard.

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