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Cars line the streets in downtown St. Albans.

ST ALBANS CITY — The city council on Monday heard from city resident Jack Nichol, owner of the Georgia-based company Canna-Trim, who urged council members to allow for a vote to approve retail cannabis in the community.

“My hope is that by the end of this presentation — and through as many more of these as needed — everyone as a community can feel comfortable and at-ease with this idea eventually,” Nichol said during his introductory statements.

The reality, Nichol offered, is that all storefronts will be able to offer cannabis products come 2023, so planning for the immediate future of the city would bode well for capitalist enterprises years from now. Currently, the law allows municipalities to opt in or out of hosting a retail cannabis market by a vote of residents.

Essentially, they’ll have gotten their hands in the pot before a lot of other communities.

“Businesses are going to be able to jockey for positions in St. Albans and all across Vermont anyway,” said Nichol, who has been petitioning residents in both St. Albans Town and St. Albans City for support to put retail cannabis on the ballot.

Nichol’s first priority, he said, is to get a vote to bring legal cannabis sales to St. Albans scheduled for both the City of St. Albans and the Town of St. Albans, which he said would likely see success from the voters, to be able to begin identifying business owners who may be interested or particularly qualified to start offering retail cannabis as a part of their product line.

“This is a cutting-edge business,” Nichol said. “It is going to be high profile, and it is going to be highly scrutinized by the media and by the state, once it’s kind of unleashed here.”

Developments would be heavily dependent on the actions and regulations produced by the Cannabis Control Board appointed Gov. Phil Scott earlier this spring. The board is staffed by James Pepper, a deputy state’s attorney for the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs; Kyle Harris, agriculture development specialist at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; and Julie Hulburd, Human Resources Director at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.

Nichol’s presentation included slides describing what a cannabis store — especially given all of the regulations around cannabis, cannabis sales and cannabis education — could look like on the streets of the city or town. The presentation envisions a pristine and modern storefront staffed with highly-qualified and knowledgeable experts about cannabis and its diverse forms and uses, including edible and smokable forms.

“It really is no different from (a liquor store) with respect to the weight of the product,” Nichol said. “This is also a place where consumers and people can feel comfortable walking into with absolutely no knowledge of cannabis whatsoever or its products, talk to somebody behind the desk, get professional and educated views on what they should or shouldn’t be doing with these products ... that way, whatever they purchase isn’t going to dissatisfy them.”

All of the stores in the city and/or town would have a 14% excise tax, 6% sales tax and the municipality’s local option tax. About 30% of the excise tax would be used for prevention programs and the 6% sales tax is already being utiilized for the State Education Fund and after-school programming, Nichol said.

A retail market may also benefit property values. Nichol cited a study by Burkhardt and Flyr (2018) in which home prices within a half-mile of a store in Denver, Colorado jumped an average of 7.7% in value, and a study by Brinkman and Mok-Lamme that showed a 19% drop in crime rates for neighborhoods with a dispensary nearby.

Nichol also cited studies from Yale University and the University of California, Davis that showed that the presence of multiple dispensaries was directly tied to a consistent decrease in opioid deaths.

“You guys have the next 14th Star in your community right now,” said Geoffrey Pizzutillo, founder and executive director of the Vermont Grower’s Association. “It’s very much off to the races right now.”

Pizzutillo said Virginia and New York were new to passing retail cannabis acts, with Connecticut close behind, and it would behoove Vermont to jump on the bandwagon.

But it all begins with a vote, Nichol said.

Rep. Michael McCarthy, D-St. Albans, spoke in favor of bringing retail cannabis to the streets of St. Albans, but urged the council to let the people decide.

“We know that people are buying and using cannabis,” McCarthy said. “(But) they’re operating on the black market right now. I would much prefer that we bring this black-and-grey market into the light and have a regulated, safe operation’s probably better to put it to the voters.”

The city council didn’t vote on the matter Monday.

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