ST. ALBANS CITY — Since the state legalization of recreational cannabis in 2018, experts and entrepreneurs have been champing at the bit to make a little green off of green in the Green Mountains.
Jack Nichol, owner of Canna-Trim cannabis trimming in Georgia Center, is petitioning for a cut of the market. He’s got 50 signatures from city residents so far after setting up shop in Taylor Park recently, but he needs 275 for St. Albans City to give voters a chance to say whether they want recreational cannabis businesses.
He also has 15 to 20 votes from St. Albans Town, but needs 226 to succeed in scheduling a vote by the people.
“The problem with waiting another year, is a lot of entrepreneurs and local business owners are getting their ducks in a row right now,” said attorney Tim Fair, partner at Vermont Cannabis Solutions. “If they’re forced to wait another full year, it’s going to dissuade them. They’ll look to the other towns.”
Nichol, who operates his own mobile cannabis trimming and equipment rental business, said he thinks the cannabis industry would be an enormous benefit to downtown St. Albans, and even thinks he’s the man to do it.
“It’s not a question,” Nichol said.
City Mayor Tim Smith said he personally was not in favor of cannabis regulation.
“I think CBD, there appears to be a lot of studies related to the medicinal purposes of CBD,” Smith said Monday. “I have no issues with medical marijuana. It’s proven to be helpful in a number of instances.”
While CBD, another cannabinoid, is currently legal to sell and consume for recreational and medicinal use, cannabis is still considered a schedule 1 drug along with cocaine and heroin federally.
On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott announced his appointees to the Vermont Cannabis Control Board, the state regulating body around commercial cannabis: James Pepper, Kyle Harris, both of Montpelier, and Julie Hulburd, of Colchester.
“With an anticipated $250 million annual industry, this is a huge opportunity (for St. Albans),” Fair said. “The ancillary benefits are enormous. Jobs, industry ... we see it as a net positive in terms of local option tax. I really hope St. Albans gives this a shot.”
Last weekend, Nichol set up a table with his petitions for both the city and town in Taylor Park. The petitions call for warning a special meeting so that the voters could make the decision themselves on whether they thought regulated retail cannabis should be allowed in the city.
“Really, this is giving the voters more control,” Nichol said. “I want to build this together. I want them to have a say. Because by 2023, it’s going to be legal anyway whether they’re in favor or against it. This gives them a chance ... to build the industry the way St. Albans wants to, just for them.”
This vote, if put to the voters, would give them the opportunity for earlier opt-in so the community could discuss exactly where and how many regulated shops there will be in the city or the town.
“There are several cannabis businesses in St. Albans who are all very anxious who have invested a lot of time and money in (planning and product development) who will all go out of business if this doesn’t go through,” Fair said. “This is a huge industry, not just retail.”
Smith said the city council will be discussing the petition and are discussing reactions to the petition and time frames should Nichol get the signatures, but even the potential economic benefits to having cannabis regulation in the community aren’t convincing.
Regardless of whether the petition results in a vote, Smith said he thinks black market cannabis sales will still exist.
“We spent millions of dollars to have people stop smoking, now the legislature allows for this,” Smith said. “We’re still recovering from opioid issues ... There’s the opportunity for people to grow their own, I just don’t think we need it on Main Street St. Albans.”
Nichol said the negative stigma around cannabis and the sale of products containing THC was largely to blame for stalling the tax and regulate market, but with the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of cannabis and the numerous possible avenues for cashing in, the industry has grown.
As an engineer and veteran of the United States Marine Corps., Nichol said cannabis helped him immensely with his PTSD, anxiety, and emotions upon returning home.
If he could one day open his own shop, Nichol said, he would take great pride around changing the stigma around cannabis use by employing knowledgeable staff and building an elite, modern space with high-tech touches, where customers could access expert staff and receive advice on what to purchase and why.
“I’m hoping that by doing this, people will realize it’s not so bad,” Nichol said of his petition. “I personally have this passion, this mission. I’m a believer in this.”