Retail cannabis approved in Montgomery, but what's next?

On Town Meeting Day, Montgomery passed Article 8 legalizing the retail sale of cannabis, but what’s next isn’t so clear.

MONTGOMERY — In Montgomery, 60% of voters chose to pass Article 8, which allows the retail sale of cannabis. What happens next isn’t so clear.

Tim Fair and Andrew Suban are the owners of Vermont Cannabis Solutions, an exclusively cannabis law and consulting firm in Burlington. They say local retailers would need to be issued a license by the state cannabis control board.

“Just because the town opted in, that doesn’t mean a dispensary opens tomorrow. That means that the popular residents of that town have decided that just because someone wants to open a retail operation ... that community is open to that possibility,” says Fair.

It’s also possible that the town could create a control board of its own for the issuance. Suban describes it like a miniature cannabis control board.

“They would have limited authority, not just absolute control over what happens in the town with it, but authority would be surrounding issues of zoning and nuisance and determining a portion of the town that is appropriate for retail cannabis,” Suban said.

That local cannabis control commission, according to Suban, would also have the ability to issue local permits, “How exactly that works, the interplay between the local license and the state license is yet to be determined. The legislature left a lot of the details to be worked out by the state cannabis control board.”

As of this writing, the state is still seeking applications for that control board.

In an interview with The Messenger in February, Montgomery Selectboard Chair Charlie Hancock took a more relaxed approach to the subject.

“I think we’d be open essentially to anyone who is a qualified licensee to obtain one. On the community level we’re essentially just saying,’Yes, we will allow this,’” he said.

Hancock declined to comment when contacted Wednesday by the Messenger.

Twenty-two other towns in Vermont voted to affirm the question Tuesday. Statewide, 68% of voters approved the opt-in measure.

“We can talk about what the original town may or may not make but when you look at the broader picture of how this stands for greater Vermont, I mean it’s almost mind boggling to think about how much revenue this is going to generate. A billion dollars in Massachusetts in two years,” says Fair.

Fair says the issue of how a state can operate a legal cannabis business — when it’s still not legal federally — also comes up often.

“The legal basis for this all to happen is based on a memo that goes back several years now from the justice department saying the federal government is not going to prosecute these cases,” he said.

With the new Biden Administration, Fair feels there could be movement soon at the federal level.

“A hugely important thing is to allow banking for the industry, or to just allow the states officially to have their cannabis industry without interference from the federal government,” says Fair.

The state is set to begin issuing licenses in 2022. For Hancock, it’s one more mechanism to increase revenue in Montgomery.

“I don’t think we’re looking at this in the manner of, ‘Hey, we want to become like the Boulder, Colorado of weed tourism,’ but I really do think it’s one piece of the puzzle,” he told the Messenger previously.

Time will only tell if Montgomery becomes the next cannabis-friendly hot spot.

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