Middlebury First Town in VT To Approve Act 164 Cannabis Dispensary Opt-in Vote

Monica Donovan 10 Dec 2020

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s town select board voted unanimously on Tuesday to let voters decide whether or not the town should allow cannabis dispensaries, once retail sales become legal in 2022.

Now, Middlebury will vote on Town Meeting Day on whether to allow dispensaries.

In 2017, when the Middlebury Selectboard put out a survey on cannabis to town residents, that survey received about 4 times as many responses as a typical town survey – with residents expressing strong support (roughly 2:1) both for legalization and welcoming cannabis business to town.

Middlebury Attorney and Addison County High Bailiff-elect Dave Silberman says that the town is the first in Vermont to authorize an opt-in vote. He also says he’s optimistic that the vote will go well.

“Having regulated cannabis stores in town is a big net positive for Middlebury.”

“My sense is that 3 of the 6 current [Selectboard] members are actually opposed to having cannabis businesses in town,” Silberman said. “My hope is that when they see the results of the Town Meeting Day vote – which I expect to be overwhelmingly supportive – that they will come around on the issue and recognize that, first, this really is not a controversial topic anymore, and second, that having regulated cannabis stores in town is a big net positive for Middlebury.”

There are two ways to get an opt-in vote on your local ballot.

There are two ways to get an opt-in vote on your local ballot. The first way is to get the local Selectboard to agree to do it, as they did in Middlebury. The second way is by direct petition – collecting signatures from at least 5% of the registered voters in that town.

Silberman says he actually did both, and collected sufficient signatures in Middlebury to force the question onto the ballot had the Selectboard refused to act. He recommends that people think about following that same approach in their town, although collecting signatures is challenging given the need to maintain physical distancing due to COVID-19.

“I do think it’s important for towns to hold their opt-in votes as early as possible,” he said. He added that if folks can’t organize their town to act before the January 31 warning deadline, the opt-in vote can be held at any time at something called a “special meeting”.

In October, Vermont became the eleventh state to legalize recreational cannabis sales. Over the next two years, according to the last available timeline, the state will set up a regulated statewide market for cannabis and issue licenses.

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