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MANCHESTER — If and when legal retail sales of cannabis are coming to Manchester, where should those stores be allowed to set up shop?

The Planning Commission began pondering that question Monday night. Though the board took no votes, members said the retail and commercial mixed-use sections in downtown Manchester Center might be a wise starting point.

Retail sales of cannabis products containing THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana that provides its “high” — are due to begin in Vermont in October. Under the state law allowing the regulation and taxing of cannabis sales, towns must vote to opt in.

Those zoning districts are areas where the sale and consumption of alcohol is allowed under the current land-use laws. Board members thought that could provide consistency, as well as guardrails to ensure the cannabis stores don’t pop up in inappropriate locations.

“My gut is we should treat it like alcohol,” commission Chairman Greg Boshart said. “I wouldn’t want alcohol everywhere, like I wouldn’t want gas stations everywhere.”

“My feeling is the same,” member Phil Peterson added.

People under the age of 21 will not be allowed in cannabis retail shops. But commission members expressed concerns about having such stores near schools, as well as the normalizing of cannabis use through legal sales.

Town Planning and Zoning Director Janet Hurley said, in a conversation with Manchester Police Chief Patrick J. Owens, that the chief indicated “he’d like to see this somewhere ... police can keep an eye on things. If it proves not a problem, we could expand it to other districts.”

Hurley opened the conversation with an important clarification: Regardless of whether the town votes to opt in on cannabis retail sales, production, manufacturing and other businesses are still allowed under the law, she said. She’s already heard from entrepreneurs interested in locating such operations in Manchester.

Where those other businesses might operate also can be addressed through the land-use bylaws.

“We should get ahead of this,” Hurley said. “If the vote is affirmative, this commission should get out ahead of it so we at least have some controls.”

Reach Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@ or at 802-447-7567, ext. 119.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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