ARTICLE 3: To raise $3,420,030.44 to pay current town expenses
Yes – 520
No – 46
ARTICLE 4: To purchase equipment for the town
Yes – 493
No – 76
ARTICLE 1: Approve the River Valley Technical Center School Budget of $3,019,676
Yes – 453
No – 102
To allow Cannabis Retail
Yes – 318
No – 267
To pass the Green Mountain Unified School District Budget
Yes – 648
No – 277
CHESTER, Vt. – Chester’s hybrid Town Meeting on Monday, Feb. 28 went smoothly with little commentary from in-person and online participants, that is, until discussion turned to whether the town should opt-in to allow for retail cannabis sales.
Chester town moderator Bill Dakin oversaw the proceedings within the first hour, walking through the 17 articles covered in Chester’s town meeting warning which included the town budget, a paving bond, capital reserve fund purchases, and a string of appropriations for local non-profits.
Town manager Julie Hance provided a comprehensive presentation that encapsulated town highlights from last year; detailed the reason for a general fund deficit of over $147,000, which will be offset by Chester’s healthy general fund, and outlined the upcoming budget of $3,420,030.44, translating to an increase of $77,000 or just 2%.
After approximately an hour, with just a few comments or requests for clarification along the way, the informational town meeting was adjourned, quickly followed by a separate informational meeting on the retail cannabis article. For this separate article, Chester voters will decide whether to allow the retail sale of legal cannabis within their borders, an issue that’s been hotly debated over the past month.
Selectboard Chairman Arne Jonynas provided a brief overview of how the retail cannabis article came to fruition, through a petition signed by 5% of Chester’s voting citizens. Despite the board’s initial refusal to put the question before voters prior to the petition, Jonynas seemed to credit the Selectboard with bringing the article to the town for town meeting saying, “Once that happened [petition by voters] the responsibility to bring it forward to the voters fell on the Selectboard.” He then said the board brought the issue up “a lot quicker than we could have…only to make sure that the vote itself would happen with the town meeting vote.” That decision saved the town from the expense of a special election down the road. The board also discussed the issue during their last several meetings.
He reminded attendees that the issue at hand was strictly that of whether the town should opt-in to allow legal cannabis sales in town, with all other issues such as state oversight, growing, or legality, having been decided by state law.
When asked by a citizen how the police department felt and how they would monitor use and test for drivers under the influence of cannabis, Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud said that there wasn’t a test specifically for cannabis and additional expense is involved in determining impairment for cannabis.
Jonynas reminded the audience that the same was true for other drugs in addition to cannabis. Board member Heather Chase added to that point saying that whether cannabis is sold in Chester or not, that issue will still exist since cannabis will be sold legally throughout Vermont beginning in October.
Citizen comments were largely split with those opposed to opting-in having a slight edge, with six citizens speaking against cannabis retail and five speaking in favor. A few residents also asked clarifying questions but didn’t voice an opinion either way. Those opposed cited contributing to the delinquency of Vermont, concerns over jeopardizing Chester’s quaint atmosphere, and several spoke in favor of waiting to see how cannabis sales impacted other towns first. Chester’s State Representative Tom Bock said that he voted against the bill at the state level, questioned Cannabis impact on mental health for youth, and suggested that this was not a way to attract families to Chester.
Those who spoke in favor of the opting-in for retail cannabis sales spoke about increased property values; the financial success of the industry as a whole in the country; the concern that investors will find other markets to invest in if Chester passes now; the benefits of a legal market on quality and purity of cannabis products versus black market options; support for local farmers; and a new business bringing more people into town.
Scott Blair, who has a shop that sells CBD products currently and was behind the petition and expressed interest in opening a retail cannabis dispensary in town, said that he has had many people who have come to his store looking for legal cannabis. “I’ve seen people that need it and want it [legal cannabis] and would rather not go somewhere else.” He said that legal cannabis will bring medicinal products to those who need it versus using addictive opiates.
The issue will be decided on Tuesday, March 1, during the town meeting election by Australian ballot at Chester Town Office from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. This article has been released before election results are tabulated. Check this article online at www.VermontJournal.com for voting results on Wednesday morning.