Survey reveals support for legal pot in Middlebury, but town officials remain cautious on marijuana issue

MIDDLEBURY — A clear majority of Middlebury residents support legalizing marijuana in Vermont and believe the town should receive tax benefits from its sale and have a say in where it could be sold locally.
That’s the general takeaway from results of Middlebury’s recent online survey on the marijuana legalization issue.
The informal poll drew responses from 773 people — making it the most successful web-based opinion survey that Middlebury has ever engineered. The selectboard launched the survey on Aug. 14 to get guidance on whether it should support the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ (VLCT) position on marijuana legalization during the upcoming 2018 legislative session.
The VLCT’s current position, as stated in its Draft Municipal Policy and Municipal Guiding Principles, is “marijuana should not be legalized for recreational purposes until all public safety concerns are adequately addressed.”
Middlebury selectboard members won’t take an official position on the VLCT’s marijuana stance until it next meets on Sept. 26. But a majority of the board on Tuesday appeared to be in the VLCT’s camp when it comes to the cannabis question.
“Are all the pieces in place to make (marijuana legalization) happen the way it should?” Selectwoman Heather Seeley asked. “I’m not convinced.”
But many of those who took the town survey seem to think their state is ready to legalize recreational marijuana, a move the state Legislature and Gov. Phil Scott have considered, but have not green-lighted. The Legislature is likely to debate the question again this winter.
Middlebury’s marijuana survey was available online, and in hard copy at the town offices, from Aug. 14 to Sept. 8. Almost 78 percent (599 respondents) were Middlebury residents, with another 138 residing in other Vermont communities. The remaining 32 respondents were from outside of the state.
Slightly more than half of those who answered the survey (51.43 percent) identified themselves as women. The poll drew responses from people age 18 to at least 75, with the 25-to-44-years-old demographic garnering the most responses (281).
See more highlights from the survey in the box on this page. A copy of the survey results can be found online by clicking here
Some respondents submitted comments. Among them:
•  “As we’ve seen from the national trend, the legalization of marijuana is quickly becoming accepted, both as a recreational and medical drug. The residents of Middlebury deserve to have access to this long-demonized and now welcome tool for alleviating all sorts of pains.”
•  “I have concerns about minors finding and eating edibles, siting businesses in the more residential areas of town, and traffic safety issues. I do believe that responsible use and taxation of marijuana would be fine.”
•  “I’m inclined towards legalization ONLY IF it is done in a careful, thoughtful, incremental, inclusive way. Law enforcement, the medical community, educators, and our legislators need to be at the table together to consider the ramifications of any proposals, and I think incremental steps towards legalization gives all of these stakeholders time to evolve appropriately… ”
•  “As a mother of a young child, I fear for her safety if it is legalized. There are no concrete ways to test for ‘intoxication’ levels and I don’t want a bunch of people who are high driving on the roads. We are a small town with multiple schools on the main road. I say emphatically NO.”
•  “Addison County has enough issues with substance abuse and impaired driving already; please don’t bring more drugs into our town.”
Selectboard members were very pleased with the response rate for the survey and were thankful that many took time to offer personal comments.
“It was pretty well-publicized in a short time-frame,” Seeley noted, referring to pre-publicity from media that included the Addison Independent. “We had a good range of older and younger (respondents). It makes the information more valuable than if it was skewed in one direction.”
Now selectboard members have to reconcile the survey findings with their own views on how to best serve their constituents. The VLCT has raised public safety-related concerns about legalization of marijuana — including whether police agencies currently have enough tools to flag drivers who might be “drugged driving.”
“I think regardless of how people feel about the legislation itself, our job is to look out for Middlebury, and I think the VLCT does a good job looking out for municipalities,” Selectboard member Susan Shashok said.
Selectman Victor Nuovo said the board should err on the side of public safety, and he offered some of his personal views on marijuana.
“I’m opposed to legalization as a cultural matter, as well as a public safety matter,” Nuovo said. “There are large issues here. We have an expression of sentiment and we have a policy the VLCT has articulated that says, ‘We’re opposed unless the public safety issues can be addressed.’ Obviously, that should be the selectboard’s concern, too: Public safety.
“My sense would be that what the VLCT is proposing is prudent,” he added.
Seeley said she believed a board vote in favor of the VLCT position would not be a vote against legalization at a later date.
“If we support the VLCT, we’re not necessarily going against what the survey is saying,” she said. “We want to have everything in place.”
But Selectwoman Laura Asermily noted some legalization advocates argue that police are already screening for drugged drivers.
“What I have also heard is that … we’re paying for the policing of it now; it is already costing us something,” Asermily said. “They already have to know whether you’re under the influence or not, so this idea there’s going to be additional cost — is it? And how much more? We are already having to train our (police) about this substance.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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