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Brandon eyes retail marijuana

BRANDON — The select board here has approved the Town Meeting Day warning, which will include an article asking voters if they will authorize retail marijuana sales in town.
But before anyone gets too pleased or panicked, depending on which side of the issue they’re on, local legislators say it will be at least a year before there is any movement on the issue from the state level. (See accompanying story, pg. 3.)
Reps. Butch Shaw and Stephanie Jerome both attended the Brandon Select Board meeting Monday night and weighed in on Act 164, the bill passed by the Legislature last year that would allow retail marijuana sales.
“I’ll say we as a state are a long ways away from selling cannabis,” Shaw said, noting that Gov. Phil Scott has yet to appoint anyone to the Cannabis Control Board, a key oversight component of Act 164. “That board will promulgate rules not covered in that bill. It’s absolutely your decision, but promulgating rules is eight to 10 months before we rule on everything that will happen.”
Jerome agreed.
“We just shouldn’t be in a rush,” she said. “It would be an opt–in if it was on the ballot. If you put it on the ballot, you’re still going to be waiting a while before you know how to proceed.”
When the Cannabis Control Board is formed and the rules are set, the first licensees for retail cannabis sales will be given to those already established, such as the medical marijuana dispensary on Lover’s Lane.
But Shaw also cautioned against thinking that retail marijuana sales would mean a financial windfall for the town.
“I’m not sure that retail sale of cannabis is going to be a retail boon for municipalities,” he said.
Selectman Doug Bailey asked for Police Chief Chris Brickell’s opinion. Brickell agreed with Shaw that the economic upside would be minimal to towns because of the neighboring states like Massachusetts and Maine that already have retail marijuana sales. He also said that regulation is key.
“I think it will be very regulated, but my concern would be, as Stephanie and Butch pointed out, that the rules surrounding how that process takes place is a very time-consuming process. That will be a key issue in how successful or not it will be for a town.”
Selectman Tim Guiles noted that nothing in the vote to put the question on the Town Meeting ballot commits the town to establishing retail marijuana sales when the time comes.
“It’s just a way for all of us to be prepared when the time comes along,” he said.
Town Manager Dave Atherton agreed.
“I think it will be on the ballot either this year or next year, so it really doesn’t seem to matter,” he said.
The board then voted 5-0 to place the article asking voters the following question:
“Shall the voters of the Town of Brandon authorize cannabis retailers and integrated licensees in town pursuant to 7 V.S.A. § 863?”
If voters approve the measure, it simply allows for the retail sale of cannabis within Brandon once the rules are put in place.

POLLING DETAILS
Brandon voters who wish to cast their ballots in person this Town Meeting Day will do so at the Brandon American Legion Post 55 on Route 7 across from the Brandon Fire Station. The board also approved a polling place time change. Brandon polls will be open this year from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The board also unanimously approved a motion to mail Australian ballots for Town Meeting to all registered Brandon voters.

APPOINTEES
The Board stopped short of appointing Lindsey Berk to the planning commission at Monday’s meeting when a motion to appoint her failed to bring a second. Berk had sent a letter of interest to the board asking to be appointed to the vacancy left by Rep. Stephanie Jerome, who stepped down to concentrate on legislative matters. Board Chair Seth Hopkins asked the board for an action and the board voted unanimously to table any appointment to the planning commission pending issuing a public notice of the vacancy for one month. The open position is the balance of a three-year term ending June 30, 2021.
In order to avoid future issues when letters of interest like Berk’s are received prior to a public notice of a board vacancy, Guiles suggested that the appointment is not put on the board’s agenda until after the vacancy is posted publicly, and Hopkins agreed.

INTERIM ACO
The board voted unanimously to appoint Tim Kingston as the interim Animal Control Officer two weeks after dismissing former ACO Margaret Kahrs. Kingston is a Brandon Public Works employee and sent a letter of interest to the board on Jan. 20.
Both the planning commission vacancy and ACO position will be advertised in The Reporter.

INCLUSION DECLARATION
The board unanimously approved a Declaration of Inclusion after approving an anti-discrimination and equal opportunity policy requirement for a $30,000 state Community Development Block Grant. The grant will be used to conduct a feasibility study and pay architectural consulting fees to investigate expanding the usable space inside the historic building on the corner of Park and Franklin Streets. Built in the 1830s, the building has housed the library since 1902.
The Declaration of Inclusion is just that, a statement from the town that, at least on paper, discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. It’s up to the board and the town department managers to make sure the intent behind the declaration is followed:
“The Town of Brandon condemns racism and welcomes all persons, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age, or disability, and will protect these classes to the fullest extent of the law.
“As a Town, we formally condemn discrimination in all of its forms and commit to fair and equal treatment of everyone in our community.
“The Town of Brandon has and will continue to be a place where individuals can live freely and express their opinions.”

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