Vergennes to vote on retail marijuana

VERGENNES — Vergennes residents will decide on Town Meeting Day whether to allow legal retail marijuana sales within their city — subject to future city ordinances and zoning permits for any shops.
At its Tuesday, Jan. 12, meeting, the Vergennes City Council approved unanimously a motion that would allow residents to decide the question, which resident and former city planner and development review board member Jason Farrell brought to the councilors’ attention.
Farrell noted the Legislature this past session passed a law allowing communities the choice to opt in and regulate shops “subject to municipal regulations and ordinances” that can be legally imposed.
He made the pun-intended argument that allowing such shops is “a budding business opportunity that’s right before us,” but also said that it was up to residents to make the choice.
Two of the roughly 60 listening into the Zoom meeting questioned the decision, United Way of Addison County Director of Prevention Jesse Brooks and Vergennes Union High School junior Olivia Brooks.
Olivia Brooks said she wanted the council to be aware of “immense drug use behind the scenes” among some of her peers, and cautioned officials to be careful before they “take the next step.”
Jesse Brooks said there were “significant public health pieces to this conversation” that should be explored in an informational meeting.
Councilors said the issues could be discussed at the annual city meeting, and if voters approved pot shops questions could be raised during public hearings for proposals.
Jesse Brooks also asked why Farrell he was rushing to seek a vote. Farrell said he was not there to debate the pros and cons of marijuana, and that such a vote was likely to happen sooner or later, either by citizen petition or council decision.
“I think it’s important this question be asked, and we have a right to ask it,” Farrell said.
Councilor Mel Hawley said if voters say no to shops, which by law cannot be established until August 2022, that would end the discussion.
“If it was approved by voters, then it sends a message to the council to start drafting an ordinance,” Hawley added.
In approving the March vote, councilors said they were not endorsing the concept.
“It’s just, does it go on the ballot or not,” said David Austin.
In other business at the meeting, the council:
•           Backed a mutual-aid agreement for the city’s public works department to cooperate with other towns’ departments in emergencies. Officials said it would protect the city from liability if other towns helped them, and make it easier for municipalities to collect FEMA disaster relief funds in the future.
The agreement is modeled after fire departments’ agreements, and officials said other communities are in the process of signing on or considering the agreement.
•           Agreed to devote $4,500 from the city’s Watershed Fund to support a design for a boardwalk that is crucial to span wetlands on city property on New Haven Road and link it with trails on city property. It is key part of both a grant application and a larger planned trail that would loop around Vergennes and connect all city parks and recreation facilities.
•           Thanked Renny Perry for coming out of retirement to serve as interim city manager for the past couple months. It was his last meeting before new manager Ron Redmond takes over.
“It’s been real,” Perry said. “I hope I gave reasonable service to my community.”
Perry is not completely off the hook. He has said he would help out Redmond if asked, and at the meeting the council appointed him the Vergennes representative to the Addison County Economic Development Corp. board.

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