Middlebury retail cannabis talk set for Feb. 9
There is a long history of well-intentioned people being very concerned about teen use increasing when stores open, but all of the evidence suggests that in actuality the opposite happens.
— Dave Silberman
MIDDLEBURY — On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the Middlebury selectboard will host an informational meeting on a Town Meeting Day referendum that, if passed by local voters, would send a signal to entrepreneurs the county’s shire town is open to hosting cannabis retail stores in the future.
The hour-long informational meeting is set to begin at 7:10 p.m. as part of the regularly scheduled selectboard gathering. It will include participation of local attorney and Addison County High Bailiff Dave Silberman — who spearheaded the call for the March 2 cannabis vote — as well as Jesse Brooks and Jessica Hellyer of the United Way of Addison County’s (UWAC) prevention team.
Middlebury Director of Planning & Zoning Jennifer Murray and Police Chief Tom Hanley will also be on hand to present slides showing what cannabis-related activities the town can and can’t regulate via zoning and other ordinances, according to Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay.
Officials are budgeting 30 minutes for Q&A.
Here’s the Zoom address for the meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83321293995.
Those who can’t make the meeting are encouraged to submit comments and questions in advance, via e-mail, to [email protected], or by mail, to 77 Main St., Middlebury, VT 05753.
Silberman and other cannabis retail supporters recently launched a website called “Middyes.com,” intended as a clearinghouse of information on cannabis retail and reasons they believe Middlebury should welcome such enterprises.
Vermont’s Act 164, which legalized recreational marijuana, requires a municipality to opt in before a cannabis retailer can open in that community. That can only be done via a Yes/No vote of town residents, according to Silberman, a longtime advocate for cannabis legalization.
The Middlebury selectboard last November agreed to place the following question on the March 2 ballot: “Shall the town of Middlebury permit the operation of cannabis retailers and integrated licensees which are licensed by the state of Vermont pursuant to Act 164 of 2020, subject to such municipal ordinance and regulation as the selectboard may lawfully adopt and implement?”
A “yes” vote would mean cannabis retailers licensed by the state of Vermont could open within Middlebury’s town lines, provided they comply with all local regulations adopted by the town selectboard. A “no” vote would bar cannabis retailers from operating in Middlebury.
Silberman and several downtown business leaders believe Middlebury should welcome well-run, regulated cannabis stores rather than see local consumers go elsewhere for the product. They argue cannabis retailers could be part of a broader plan to re-energize a downtown Middlebury that is currently trying to fill several empty storefronts in wake of economic malaise driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and a rail tunnel project that closed Main Street and Merchants Row for 10 weeks last summer.
Proponents also believe that the absence of a cannabis store in Middlebury could perpetuate purchases from unregulated local sources.
Better Middlebury Partnership board member Amey Ryan, Lost Monarch Coffee Bar owner Matthew Delia-Lobo and Vermont Book Shop owner Becky Dayton are among those advocating for a positive vote on the retail cannabis question.
“If anyone walks downtown who’s not from the area and takes a look at the offerings, there’s not a whole lot of diversity in the sense of who the downtown stores are appealing to,” Ryan told the board last November. “I think something like this creates some of that diversity.”
The Middyes.com website lists 12 Middlebury businesses favoring “responsible, regulated retail cannabis sales in town,” including Vermont Soap, Parlour, Aqua ViTea, the Marquis Theater, and Stone Leaf Teahouse.
Brooks, UWAC’s director of prevention, provided the Independent with some of her thoughts leading up to the Feb. 9 meeting. She noted that thanks to federal funding, UWAC has built a team of substance use prevention experts to support community leaders as they determine if commercial sale of cannabis is the right choice for Addison County.
“Our goal is to reduce youth substance use, recognizing that if we are successful at doing that, we’ll improve the health, education, and financial stability of Addison County,” she said. “We use prevention science and evidence-informed strategies to guide our work.”
Brooks stressed the importance of preparing for the potential long-term health impacts that legalized cannabis could bring to county residents.
“We know that increasing access to more substances raises significant health and safety concerns,” she said. “Health begins in the places we live, learn, work, play, and shop. Cultural norms related to the use, access to, and promotion of cannabis products influence the rate and frequency of use in communities, particularly for youth. The socially responsible way to approach a commercial cannabis market is with preparation and knowledge. We begin this approach by addressing the facts, preparing for the uncertainties and determining who will need more support.”
Silberman promised to present evidence relating to the impact of cannabis stores on underage pot use.
“Bottom line, there is a long history of well-intentioned people being very concerned about teen use increasing when stores open, but all of the evidence suggests that in actuality the opposite happens — teen use does not increase, and may even decrease, when the cannabis market shifts from ‘the street’ to a store, because while our existing supply chain does not check ID or kick out customers who are under 21 years old, regulated stores do,” he argued.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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