Editorial: Why vote to opt in for pot?
In this year’s Town Meeting balloting, the towns of Middlebury, Vergennes, Brandon and Salisbury (among many others around the state) will vote on allowing the retail sale of cannabis. If approved, retail stores would not open until October 2022. The reason to hold the vote now is to provide town officials more than a year to establish appropriate zoning, create oversight boards (if wanted), provide for educational campaigns and other actions towns may choose to do well ahead of opening day.
We applaud the early vote. In the end, the issue is where to locate such sales to the best retail advantage, as well as insuring adequate regulation and monitoring.
Let’s also be frank: we’re legalizing a drug that can be harmful to personal health. But so are cigarettes and alcohol. We legalize such sales to better regulate them, and because prohibition doesn’t work.
It’s important to recall that on Oct. 7, 2020, Gov. Phil Scott allowed the bill establishing a marijuana marketplace in Vermont to become law, making Vermont the 11th state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana sales. The law responds to the wrongful policies that criminalized marijuana in the first place.
As part of the law, Vermont towns were allowed to “opt-in” or “opt-out” — that is to allow or reject the sale of cannabis. But make no mistake about that choice. Denying the sale of cannabis in any town will not prevent, or even slow, its use. If there is demand, the market will prevail. There certainly will be a market for cannabis in Middlebury; most likely there is in Vergennes and Brandon as well.
The question residents face is where cannabis products should be sold in the state. Voters who hope to stop the sale or spread of the drug by voting no, will only hurt those towns with retail bases that might benefit from the added commerce. To that end, we agree with a number of area business leaders who support “opting-in” for Middlebury, and for the same reasons, support passage in Vergennes and Brandon. We encourage residents in those communities to vote “yes” to allow such retail sales.
The very next steps, however, should be to focus on education concerning use of the drug, and to broadcast the dangers of abuse (of marijuana and all drugs) clearly and frequently. The law does provide funding for that purpose: of the 20% tax on sales (14% excise tax and 6% sales tax), which will raise an estimated $20 million annually, 30 percent of the excise taxes will go to drug use prevention and education. By voting now to opt-in, residents in Middlebury, Vergennes and Brandon will not only position their retail communities to seek any positive economic gain, but also will have a seat at the table in determining the regulations that need to be set in place to keep the community informed and as healthy as possible.
It is, in short, better to be in the driver’s seat than to be a silenced passenger.
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