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Weathersfield Residents Seek Ban on Marijuana Dispensaries

Weathersfield — A group of residents presented the Selectboard with a draft ordinance Tuesday night that — if adopted — would ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in town, as well as establishments that sell tobacco related paraphernalia, according to the draft ordinance.

Selectboard members Tuesday night said the ordinance would need to be reviewed by the town’s legal counsel, and possibly redrafting, before it could be considered.

“I think it needs a lot of work,” said Selectboard Vice Chairman John Arrison. “It really doesn’t say what you folks want to accomplish,” he added, making reference specifically to the “purpose” section of the ordinance.

Selectman Richard Clattenburg said the two targets of the ordinance — marijuana dispensaries and smoking paraphernalia — should be addressed separately.

“I think they are two different issues,” Clattenburg said. “I have different feelings about both of them.”

Under the draft ordinance presented Tuesday night, a dispensary is “any facility or location where marijuana is acquired,” and establishments that sell paraphernalia are defined as “any premises where drug and tobacco paraphernalia is displayed for sale.”

Cookie Shand, a lead organizer of the group promoting the ordinance, agreed with Selectboard members that the ordinance language needed to be refined.

“I think we are way above our heads, and I think we need to consult with someone because it is a very difficult issue,” Shand said.

Weathersfield resident Mark Ostrom, who helped draft the ordinance, said the language is almost verbatim to an ordinance adopted on the same subject in Ludlow, Vt., earlier this year.

In Vermont, a change in the state law the decriminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana went into effect this summer.

The state legalized medical marijuana in 2004, and the first medical marijuana dispensaries opened this summer.

Cultivation of marijuana by individuals remains illegal.

Arrison advised the group to change wording in the ordinance to be more definitive, while Selectboard Chairman Daniel Boyer proposed looking into whether or not the Vermont League of Cities and Towns has a model ordinance.

Melanie Sheehan, a Weathersfield resident and director of community health outreach at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center, said the group would rework the proposal to provide more clarity.

Before the meeting, Shand said the half dozen or so community members who have joined together to press the issue will continue their work to pass an ordinance.

“We care about our kids and we care about the future of our village. We don’t want it to become Anywhere, U.S.A.,” she said in an interview prior to the Selectboard meeting .

Resident Ginger Wimberg agreed with Shand and said the townspeople must do what they can to protect the youth.

“We owe it to our young people not to be a place where all of this is available. ‘Are they going to do it (drugs)?’ That’s up to them,” Wimberg said. “But we don’t have to condone it by having it be sold here. It’s almost like saying, ‘OK, I won’t look.’

“It’s wrong and we need to take a stand.”

The ordinance backers were stirred up this summer after the Magic Mushroom, a retail shop that sells smoking paraphernalia, settled into a larger storefront off of Route 5, just south of the Route 44A intersection in Ascutney.

“Before that it was located in the strip mall by Exit 8, and initially people thought it was like a gift shop with kids toys, they didn’t pay too much attention to it,” Shand said.

With the shop’s more central location, though, residents have become more aware of the stores inventory, she said, which includes tobacco-related products and adult novelties.

The owners of the store could not be reached for comment late Tuesday night.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, a reference was made to another shop in town, inside a gas station on Route 131, that sells tobacco accessories.

Sheehan came at the subject from two positions Tuesday night: as a public health advocate and as a mother of three children.

She said she was pleased with how Tuesday night’s discussions unfolded.

“I thought it went very well,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to raise awareness of the issue and get the community involved. This issue is larger than any one person’s personal opinion.”

Ostrom was less enthused.

“I’m a little disappointed that more wasn’t accomplished,” Ostrom said. “(But) I am optimistic that there are enough people that do want to keep our town the way it is, and I am optimistic that we can do that.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.