BARRE TOWN — The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is circulating a resolution supporting municipal authority when it comes to a statewide tax-and-regulate marijuana system.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Barre Town Select Board heard from Gwynn Zakov, municipal policy advocate with the VLCT. Zakov discussed a bill, currently in the Vermont House that has passed the Senate, dealing with a retail marijuana market. The state legalized last year the possession and growing of small amounts of marijuana for those over 21 years old, but the legislation didn’t allow for retail sales of the plant.
Zakov sent out an email Nov. 15 saying leaders at the Legislature are looking to take up the bill soon after the session starts back up in January.
Board member Paul White has expressed concern in the past with allowing a retail marijuana shop in town. White’s concern appears to be focused on the fact marijuana is still illegal to possess or sell federally.
Newport and Clarendon have put ordinances in place banning recreational marijuana sales and White has suggested Barre Town could do the same. But Zakov said as the bill is written right now, those bans would be “meaningless” because state law would supersede a town ordinance. She said there’s no ability in the bill for a legislative body, such as a select board, to say yes or no to retail marijuana.
She said the Senate version of the bill had an opt-out provision, where towns looking to keep out retail marijuana shops can elect to do so via town-wide vote. But she said when the bill went to the House it was changed to an opt-in provision, also requiring a town-wide vote, which the VLCT prefers.
But she said the bill doesn’t address growing operations or others businesses that deal with marijuana but don’t sell it commercially.
“So essentially, you would not be able to ban, whether opting in or opting out, whether a facility that’s not retail would be located in your community. The only tools you would have would be what’s in your zoning currently,” she said.
Zakov said since the federal government legalized the growing and selling of hemp, there are over 1,000 licensed hemp growers in Vermont. She said they could look to start growing marijuana as well for retail establishments.
Zakov said as soon as the bill is signed into law, towns would have the ability to hold opt-in or opt-out votes. She said it would be at least a year after the law is signed before the state would start issuing licenses for retail shops, giving towns time to hold votes.
She said the Senate bill included a 2% local option tax for retail marijuana sales. A municipality with a retail marijuana shop would get all of that tax minus some administration fees from the state.
Zakov said the House version eliminated the local option tax and instead would give the municipality the equivalent of a 1% “share” of the state taxes generated from retail sales.
“Our experience with this revenue sharing model from the state is that it never lasts and always goes away. The state will find a way to absorb the money on their own,” Zakov said.
She said the VLCT is advocating for a 5% local tax controlled by local communities, not the state. She said if a town is willing to host a retail establishment, it should be able to reap the benefits. She said 70% of the revenue generated from the tax would go to the town. The rest would go to towns hosting growing or manufacturing marijuana businesses, but not retail shops, because she said those towns wouldn’t see any revenue from those businesses if the bill becomes law.