St. Albans Town Hall, 8-25-2020 (copy)

St. Albans Town Hall is shown in August. A local man is petitioning the town and St. Albans City to put retail cannabis on the ballot for the next Town Meeting Day.

ST. ALBANS TOWN — A man petitioning for a vote to allow retail cannabis in St. Albans City brought his pitch to the St. Albans Town Selectboard Monday night.

“I really think it’s important for the community to identify who they want to work with here and get ahead of this early such that we’re not trying to cram a whole bunch of work and planning,” said city resident Jack Nichol, who is petitioning voters in both municipalities to put retail cannabis on the ballot next Town Meeting Day.

If small businesses are given licenses to open in the fall of 2022, Nichol said it will effectively be a commercial race that he wants St. Albans Town to be ready for.

“This is going to be a super high-profile, highly scrutinized business,” Nichol said. “I just feel like ... probably the town and the city would want someone who is familiar with the process.”

While he expressed interest in receiving more information, Selectboard Chair Brendan Deso said the town would need to, among other things, forecast any potential tax revenue and see where it could potentially go.

“I personally love the idea of forecasting a tax revenue related to allowing a cannabis dispensary in the town and directing all of that money into our parks, if that’s a direction we were going to go,” Deso said. “It’s very early on for us to hit any of these decisions, but I guess this is a good reminder that we need to start thinking about them now.”

Deso also mentioned that as zoning for the town is updated, cannabis sales facilities could specifically be zoned in places away from schools and other areas of concern.

“If folks are going to get it, they’re going to get it,” Deso said. “They can buy it off the black market, off the streets ... When the borders open, there’s dispensaries in Saint Jean and Montreal, there’s some in Maine, there are others in Massachusetts ... this marketplace is surrounding us and probably coming to our state and our community whether we want it to or not.”

Geoffrey Pizzutillo, co-founder of the Vermont Grower’s Association, clarified that the town would, if retail cannabis was approved at the ballot box, have some control over what could be established and where in regards to zoning through a cannabis control board, much like a liquor control board.

“If we can do good, solid planning work to make sure that when it does arrive here that it’s under our conditions and our prescriptive requirements ... if we look at that from a ‘protecting youth’ perspective I think we will make some pretty solid decisions, specifically around where the tax revenues go,” Deso said.

Amy Brewer, coordinator for the Franklin Grand Isle Tobacco Prevention Coalition, noted that youth risk behavior surveys conducted by the Department of Health at BFA St. Albans between 2013 and 2019 show student use of tobacco had generally decreased over the years, but when vapes came on the scene they presented a different challenge.

Cannabis use has risen over the six-year period from 18% to 23%, Brewer said, and youth perception of harm has decreased from 32% to 25%. The perception of parental and peer disapproval of cannabis use has also decreased significantly, according to her figures.

While the proposed retail cannabis shops referenced only adult use, she argued the more normalization a product has in modern society — including the use of a substance by parents or elders — and the more young people are exposed, the more likely they are to use it.

“For youth, in particular, cannabis use does have risks,” Brewer said. “The earlier a youth uses a substance, the more at risk they are for using it more, for addiction — and cannabis can be addictive, especially if you begin using it young.”

“We don’t want youth using this substance either,” Pizzutillo said. “There is no advertising, right now, for the adult use marketplace. There is an effective ban on advertising ... if this bill, S. 25 were to pass, there will be advertising. (However) local control allows advertising ordinances — you guys have control over signing.”

Nichol brought the subject to the city council last month. Council members expressed gratitude and encouragement for Nichol to continue gathering signatures for his petition for a vote to allow retail cannabis.

Mayor Tim Smith previously expressed that he considered cannabis a drug, and was personally not in favor of having a cannabis establishment in the city.

“We spent millions of dollars to have people stop smoking now the legislature allows for this,” Smith told The Messenger in April. “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.”

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