Board to survey voters about dispensary ban

Scott Mackie is part of a group that seeks to bring a marijuana dispensary to Dover. He is seen here at an information meeting held in March at the Dover Town Hall.

DOVER - At its meeting Tuesday night, the Dover Selectboard was told it could not hold a special Town Meeting for a vote about proposed town ordinances banning marijuana dispensaries. Town clerk Andy McLean said the course of action wouldn’t follow the appropriate procedure for adoption of ordinances and would be “improper.” Suitable courses of action, McLean said, include the board adopting ordinances, which could be challenged by a petition, at which point a special Town Meeting vote would be compelled, or to survey the townspeople in advance of adopting ordinances. The board ultimately decided to pursue a survey.
Ordinances banning marijuana dispensaries are being considered at the request of police chief Randy Johnson. In February, the board heard from individuals who were interested in opening a medical marijuana dispensary in the town. At the time, Johnson said he’d come to the board years earlier to encourage them to start thinking about ordinances about marijuana, and he expressed his desire to not have the medical marijuana dispensary located in the town.
At the board’s last meeting, Johnson said he thought it was time that the board consider moving forward with an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries and banning retail marijuana establishments if and when a regulated retail market becomes legal in Vermont. At that meeting, Johnson suggested that the board could adopt ordinances themselves and see if anyone petitioned it, but board members said they wanted the town’s voters to weigh in directly. To that end, the board decided to pursue a special Town Meeting.
But on Tuesday, McLean said the special Town Meeting was a no-go. “The process for adopting an ordinance is that only the board can do it,” said McLean. “There’s no special Town Meeting or town vote to adopt an ordinance.”
If it desired, said McLean, the board could adopt ordinances and wait to see if members of the public petitioned them, at which point a special Town Meeting would need to be held to resolve the matter. In other words, the board can’t hold a special Town Meeting vote to see if they should adopt an ordinance unless they adopt one first and someone protests.
“The people can’t adopt an ordinance, but they can tell you not to,” said McLean.
McLean said that given the board’s desire to have voters weigh in, another approach would be to hold a special selectboard meeting about the issue, at which surveys could be available. “We can treat (the surveys) as we treat ballots,” said McLean. “I could be there with a voter checklist.”
Resident and business owner Adam Levine said he felt the matter should be decided upon by all taxpayers, including second-home owners, not just voters. “The people who come up here, it’s as much their town as it is ours,” said Levine. “We need to put a reasonable effort into reaching them.”
Vice chair Vicki Capitani disagreed. “It all comes back to who runs this town, and it’s the voters,” said Capitani. “We make the budgets, we decide where we’re going to pave; it’s the voters. It comes back to the voters. It’s nice to know what second-home owners think, but the voters are the ones who need to make the decision, and I strongly believe that.”
McLean echoed Capitani’s assertion. “There are differences between our second-home owners and the folks who reside here, our voters,” said McLean. “One of the differences being that we live here and our kids go to school here. Particularly with something like this, it may affect us differently than your average taxpayer. And while I think, if possible, getting the opinion of the second-home owner is incredibly valuable and we need to do it, I also feel that in some instances, and this being one of them, the people that (the selectboard members) really need to listen to are the folks who live here and are trying to make a living here and whose kids are growing up here.”
The board decided to pursue a special selectboard meeting, at which surveys will be available. The board also discussed having the surveys available at the town office for a period of time following the meeting.
Scheduling of the special selectboard meeting will be discussed further at the board’s next meeting, Tuesday, May 1, at 6:30 pm at the Dover Town Office.

The Deerfield Valley News

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