ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – On Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, the second Cannabis Education Forum was held in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House, moderated by The Feed’s Marty Gallager and Mike Smith. The panel of speakers included Sue Westa of the Windham Regional Commission; Sen. Jeannette White; Greater Falls Connections Project Director, Laura Schairbaum and Outreach Coordinator, Deb Witkus; Owner of VT420Tours, Deb Fox; and Clinical Therapist, Julie Tracy.
The forums were held to facilitate an informed discussion on Article 5 of the Town Warning: Shall the voters of Rockingham authorize cannabis retailers in Town, pursuant to 7 V.S.A Section 863.
The first forum, held on Feb. 9, was for parents and caregivers. WNESU Student Assist Professional, Heather Waryas gave an overview on brain development and said that, largely, teens make decisions based on emotion and that the last part of the brain to develop is the rational prefrontal cortex, where problem solving and decision making are based. She shared Teen Tips for parents: “Talk with me, not at me! Keep it brief. Have faith and trust in me. Let’s face it, it’s awkward for both of us!”
On Feb. 16, Westa outlined the regulations of the bill, including restrictions to those 21 years or older, an outdoor consumption ban, and a 500-foot buffer zone between schools and retail establishments. She said that towns could choose to add a local option tax for 1%, but that the tax must be for all retail, not just on cannabis. Westa said last year Brattleboro, Jamaica, and Londonderry passed the bill, and that this March, Wilmington and Putney will join Rockingham’s vote.
White said retail cannabis in Vermont will be taxed at 20%: a 6% sales tax and 14% to the state, 30% of which would be for education, prevention, and treatment. Her recommendation to the House was that 10% go to the state with 4% staying local and she encouraged constituents to contact local representatives. White said the goal was to emphasize Vermont based industry.
Fox said that cannabis retail would impact tourism and the economy. She said, VT420Tours, a historic walking tour of Bellows Falls with cannabis education, had brought $1,200 into the Village on her first day. “Actually, in the four hours and twenty minutes” of her tour length, she added.
Fox said legal cannabis could generate 30 – 40 local jobs, including growers and budtenders that were “paid well, upwards of $30 an hour.”
Tracy said that the direct correlation between substance disorders and mental health depended upon the level of exposure. Exposure factors included trauma, abuse, and level of support. She agreed that some of the rules would help reduce exposure, like not allowing for public consumption and the implementation of visual barriers.
Witkus advocated that the money stay in the community to support and engage at-risk youth with protection factors. She also said, we must think about “substance and not the substance,” suggesting parents communicate about their own use. “Lock it up… talk it up,” she said.
Schairbaum encouraged tighter restrictions on location, advertising, and therapeutic claims. She asked about a cap on the number of licenses, to which Westa replied that for now, there was no limit.
The three-member Cannabis Control Board, James Pepper, Kyle Harris, and Julie Hulburd, will serve as commissioners, and there is an option to form a local board, which many panel members were interested in forming.
There are a few bills currently in the legislature, Rockingham is voting on whether or not to allow retail cannabis. The Town Meeting will be Feb. 28, and elections will be on March 1, at the Masonic Temple, from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.