EAST MONTPELIER — The potential impact of a tax-and-regulate marijuana market in town was discussed at a meeting of the Select Board on Monday.
It followed a letter from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that seeks support for a policy position in the next legislative session.
Town Manager Bruce Johnson said the Select Board adopted the VLCT resolution as written. He said discussion was “relatively muted” and focused on reviewing a VLCT letter and resolution along with previous media reports on the topic “with the focus on providing support for VLCT’s efforts on this issue.”
Last year, the state legalized possession and growing of small amounts of marijuana for people over 21 years old, but the legislation did not allow for retail sales of the plant.
A Senate bill, S.54, was passed last year, and proposed a 2% local option tax for retail marijuana sales.
A House version of the bill would eliminate the local option tax for retail marijuana sales and instead would give the municipality the equivalent of a 1% share of the state taxes generated from retail sales minus the cost of some state administrative fees.
However, VLCT is concerned that the proposed state revenue sharing model would not last, and municipalities would lose tax revenue from retail sales to the state.
VLCT is advocating for a 5% tax controlled by municipalities, of which 70% would go to the city or town, and the rest to municipalities hosting growing or manufacturing marijuana businesses.
There also are differences between the Senate bill and the House version that still have to be decided concerning how towns decide whether to allow retail sale operations.
The Senate bill states voters must opt out (prohibit) of retail sales or the operations of cultivators, manufacturers, testing laboratories or wholesalers. The House version of the bill states voters must opt in (permit) retail operations but have no authority to opt in or out of the operations of cultivators, manufacturers, testing laboratories or wholesalers.
Select Board member Carl Etnier said he backs VLCT’s support of local control of a tax-and-regulate marijuana market.
“This is in the context of the VLCT being an organization of all of the municipalities in Vermont wanting and having as part of its agenda for many, many years, more local control over our lives, more ability for local communities to set the conditions of our living, to be able to decide for ourselves,” Etnier said. “We see local municipalities as laboratories of democracy within the state of Vermont and ... what’s good for the community.”
Etnier said the issue came up at the VLCT annual meeting in October.
“We are frustrated at the micro-management that the Legislature does of towns,” Etnier said. “With cannabis itself, the VLCT calls for legislation that legalizes commercial cannabis to address issues of municipal concern and we want to be able to give towns control over the pace at which legalization happens and maybe some of the conditions over which legalization happens in towns.”
Etnier said the Select Board had no issue over whether it’s legal to possess cannabis.
“But if somebody is going to be growing cannabis or processing it for some final product, or selling it on the retail level, the municipalities want to be able to have a say in that,” Etnier said. “Specifically, VLCT’s stand on that is: We would like towns to be able to have to opt in to any of those three activities happening in the town.”
Etnier said he wanted lawmakers to give municipalities the ability to ask voters if they wanted to allow retail sales.
“But until the town or city affirmatively decides that through a town vote, it would not be OK to do so,” Etnier said.
“That’s because all the states, as we understand it, that have legalized cannabis retail sales, have had some sort of hiccups along the way and we think we can make the smoothest transition to a legal cannabis market if municipalities are given the opportunity to discuss the issues and how they want to address them, and decide if they want their local municipality to take that step,” he added.
Etnier said he was “personally in favor of cannabis legalization” and called the war on drugs a “big failure.”
“But wherever you stand on that issue, we’re moving to a legalized cannabis market in this state and we want to do it in a very thoughtful way and the people in the local communities are best suited to sort out the details,” he said. “I look forward to a discussion with the voters of East Montpelier about whether or how we want to legalize cannabis here.”