Therapeutic Cannabis in South Burlington?

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Wednesday February 08, 2012

During its July 25 meeting, the Planning Commission revisited the prospect of therapeutic use of cannabis and dispensary land use in South Burlington. Last month, Planning Commission members juggled with the idea of whether to allow a cannabis dispensary if it were proposed. This time, they still tackled the same question but with a particular dispensary in mind.

No longer a hypothetical situation, Shayne Lynn stood before the Commission and shared his plan of having a cannabis cultivation site in South Burlington should his application be approved. Lynn is in communication with a landlord about securing a location for growing purposes only. The site would have very low visibility with neither windows nor signage. The development would comply with land use regulations under the law that it shall not be located within 1,000 ft. of preexisting public or private schools or any childcare facility.

The retail store would not be located in South Burlington, he said. This is mainly for safety purposes. Retail of the substance would be in Burlington.

According to Vermont State Statute, only four dispensaries are allowed in the state. All are highly regulated. A dispensary can be one of three things: a retail facility, a cultivation facility, or it can be both, Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner said.

Commission members brought it back to the initial question: would they even allow therapeutic cannabis dispensary land use in South Burlington at all? They could choose to prohibit it like Stowe; the town chose to do so based on it being an unknown, Conner said.

None of the members expressed strong opposition of the prospect. In fact, some members did not hesitate to agree to it.

“It would create hardship to disallow it,” Planning Commission member Barbara Benton said.

New Planning Commission member Sophie Quest agreed with this sentiment, saying that the site sounds like it would be a quiet pharmacy, and that a dispensary for cultivating a substance that would assist those with a debilitating disease would act like any pharmacy.

Planning Commission Chair Jessica Louisos said it would be worth looking into their table of uses to see if there are other situations similar to this. Conner added that members should consider three things: (1) if there is interest in pursuing this, (2) if there is reason to prohibit this, and (3) what the community wants.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Bill Stuono said he was not opposed to handling the topic of therapeutic cannabis dispensary land use, but he warned that there might be community members who will not be favorable of having a grow site so close to home.

The Commission will need to “carefully weigh where we might want to have an operation like this,” he said. They wouldn’t want South Burlington to absorb regional needs, he added.

Donna Laben of Iris Lane asked if this would be applicable to tax. Conner said that the property tax would still apply, but that he was unsure about sales tax.

After hearing such discussion, the consensus points to further pursuance of allowing therapeutic use of cannabis, Louisos said. They would look at different zones that would allow or disallow for this, and Conner would define the uses. The commission will also have the online state statute to reference. The statute can be viewed as part of the meeting package which can be accessed on the city site under “Planning Commission.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent