By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO – A split North Hero Selectboard has agreed to endorse a resolution supporting a local tax-and-regulate system for cannabis in Vermont.
Chairman Harry Parker, Diane Bahrenburg, Karl Raacke and Tim Bourne voted to support the commercial marijuana resolution being circulated by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
The League wants towns to be able to help tax and regulate drugs sales in the individual municipalities, if the state gives final legislative approval.
Selectboard member Ben Joseph, a retired judge, voted against the VLCT resolution.
“I’m vehemently opposed to the idea of legalizing commercial distribution of marijuana,” Joseph said. He said he believes the resolution sends the wrong message to the state that North Hero is endorsing marijuana use.
Joseph is concerned about the resulting increase in the number of impaired drivers on Vermont’s highways, the impact on drug addiction, health care and on education.
Parker, who is a lawyer, asked for support for the one-page resolution. He noted he thought it was the best way for North Hero to proceed.
Parker tried to call for a board vote without a second to his motion, but was headed off by Raacke. Raacke agreed to second the motion only for discussion purposes.
“It’s all about the money,” warned Joseph, who has studied the issue for several years as a judge, as a state legislator and as a host for several call-in access TV shows featuring drug experts on the issue.
Part of the VLCT resolution calls for a 5 percent local tax to be assessed with the towns participating being allowed to keep 75 percent of the revenues.
Parker acknowledged that legislators may not accept the resolution proposed by the League, which is the statewide lobbying group for more than 250 local municipalities.
Raacke had some initial reservations.
“I’d just as soon let it die,” he said.
“I am in agreement with Ben,” Raacke said, noting there was inadequate information to make a decision. However, the conversation continued and when it came time for the vote, Raacke sided with the majority.
The discussion was mostly between the four men on the board with Bourne attending his first meeting since winning a seat at a special election. Bahrenburg, the vice chairman, said little during the half-hour discussion before she voted in favor.
Several towns, including Stowe, have voted to endorse the League resolution as a way to help offset expected increased expenses, including law enforcement, schools and other budget items.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, after the Stowe vote, told NBC5 News in South Burlington that the VLCT resolution could cause more harm than good for the proposal legislation to legalize marijuana. He suggested the proposed 5 percent local tax be slashed.
As state legislators prepare to head back to Montpelier next week, various House and Senate versions have different provisions, including sales and excise taxes and fees.
Joseph suggested maybe more than 5 percent might be needed.
Other towns, including Arlington opted to postpone action on the resolution because of serious concerns about the draft, according to the Bennington Banner. Arlington considered adding to or amending the resolution to address local concerns.
As of mid-December only about 20 towns had adopted the resolution, 17 of which did so without making any changes to it, a League spokeswoman told the Banner. She said at least 10 other towns were considering voting on the item.
Parker said he thought it was better to have his voice heard before the legislation might get approved – not after.
Joseph, as a former legislator, was asked to predict what might happen this session. He said it was too hard to predict on a topic like marijuana. He said there are about 20 lobbyists being paid to push the issue.
Joseph said he understands House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero has some concerns about the legislation. He said Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling is “dead set against it. He has a lot of reservations.”
Joseph said North Hero could send a letter or resolution indicating that it was a bad idea and would be detrimental.
Parker said he thought the League had spent considerable time crafting the resolution to address a wide range of needs.