Scooter MacMillan, Editor and Juliann Phelps, Contributor
After hearing from a number of residents who live near proposed commercial cannabis growing operations, Charlotte officials are looking into such enterprises.
But it appears the town is limited in what it can do.
Town administrator Dean Bloch told the selectboard at its Nov. 21 meeting, he didn’t think the town could outright deny permits for commercial cannabis growing, but licensing for such operations would be subject to the town’s conditions — if they are passed.
As a first step, the selectboard decided to form a cannabis control commission. The cannabis control commission will be like the town’s liquor control board, which means that, for the time being, it is the selectboard.
Like the liquor control board, at meetings the selectboard could vote to convene as the cannabis control board when the town needs to consider license applications.
“Let’s do the same thing we do for the liquor control board — have the selectboard be the cannabis control board in its infancy,” chair Jim Faulkner said. “As we get more feedback, we may want to make a separate board.”
The advantage of having a cannabis control commission is that it gets the town some skin in the game, so to speak, because once the state knows Charlotte has such a board, it will confer with the town when considering a commercial cannabis license in Charlotte.
The state will ask for Charlotte’s opinion about a commercial cannabis application, Faulkner said. “It doesn’t give us any authority to do anything.”
But it gives the town the opportunity to be heard before a decision is made by the state. It’s just an advisory role, and the state could still issue a permit, Faulkner said.
Charlie Russell, chair of the development review board, said the selectboard should consider designing the application process so applicants only have to go before the development review board rather than having to go before the selectboard (functioning as the cannabis control commission).
He also urged the selectboard to pass an “interim bylaw” listing commercial cannabis operations as a conditional use in a rural district. He said this step could prevent litigation if a permit is denied.
Board member Frank Tenney said that now, such endeavors are only allowed in the industrial area of Charlotte and proposed crafting the regulation so that is the only area where commercial cannabis is allowed.
Faulkner acknowledged that Russell’s and Tenney’s concerns are legitimate but argued that these details be “flushed out” later. He said it was important to go ahead and form a local cannabis control commission, so the state is aware of Charlotte’s request to have an advisory role in the permitting process.
With board member Matt Krasnow absent, the board voted 4-0 to form a cannabis control commission comprised of the members of the selectboard.
The selectboard is not the only town body in Charlotte considering commercial cannabis applications. The planning commission mapped out its work plan for the next year and cannabis is first on its list.
During a meeting on Nov. 17, commissioners were briefed by town planner Larry Lewack on his research into what other towns are doing about commercial cannabis in the context of state regulations and licenses.
They also heard from the town zoning administrator Keith Oborne, members of the public and a local cannabis business owner.
“The burden is on us to figure this out,” said Lewack. “It puts us in a difficult position.”
Lewack said the town did have the authority to require cannabis businesses to apply for a conditional-use permit.
Oborne told the commission he issued notices to the two tier 2 licensed cannabis businesses in Charlotte to submit an application for conditional use review and approval by the development review board. He said he has not received any applications yet.
Tier 2 businesses have operations larger than 1,000 square feet. Tier 1 businesses are under 1,000 square feet and not subject to local zoning as per Act 158.
Prior to the selectboard’s decision, the planning commission also discussed establishing a local cannabis control board. Lewack said the board could require businesses to obtain a local permit before a state permit, “which would give the town greater leverage than we have now.”
Members of the public spoke in support of cannabis regulations. “You are way more ahead on it than I anticipated,” said Jennifer Adsit of Spear Street.
Residents of Prindle Road, Andy Hale and Jen Banbury, commented as well. Banbury said she has a “strong feeling it’s the time to get on top of it” and “appreciated the commission taking it seriously.” Hale referenced a letter he and other residents submitted to the commission.
John Stern offered his perspective as a tier 1 commercial cannabis business owner. He said he was willing to provide input if the commission requested it, citing specific examples such as lighting. “If Charlotte adopted stable and sustainable rules, it would be good for all of us,” he said.
Lewack offered a final option for discussion, adopting interim by-laws. He said, “If the selectboard decided it needed to fast track something specific and no standard exists, they can task staff and the planning commission to put something together, call public hearings and adopt interim by-laws.”
After the selectboard meeting, board member Lewis Mudge said he was glad the board had made the motion to form a cannabis control commission, even though it might not be able to deny a permit. “It just establishes a level of transparency as to when and where these operations are taking place. Because before this commission, we just didn’t have any idea what was going on; we didn’t know if they were happening.”