Vernon Debates Restrictions on Cannabis Shops Near Schools

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How far should a recreational cannabis retailer be from a school?

On Thursday night, Vernon tackled that and put in restrictions for where those stores would be allowed to set up shop.

Earlier this month, the Planning and Zoning Commission continued the public hearing to Thursday night after some legal questions regarding the distance.

“My biggest issue is the children and how close these establishments are going to be to our schools,” said Vernon Mayor Dan Champagne during public comment.

A proposal to allow recreational cannabis retailers to be 500 feet from a public or parochial school, door to door, in Vernon was not far enough for some.

“All I’m saying is don’t have it between 1,500 feet of a school zone. That’s all I’m advocating for,” said Vernon Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Macary.

The superintendent said 1,500 feet around the boundary of a school is considered a school zone and a drug-free zone.

During the meeting, the town attorney said that while use or possession of cannabis on school property is still prohibited, the state’s legislation that legalized recreational marijuana made it so the 1,500 foot zone no longer applies to cannabis. He did point out that federal law has not changed.

“The federal controlled substances act prohibits the distribution or possession with the intent to distribute within a thousand feet of a school. So that’s still the federal law,” said Vernon town attorney Lou Spadaccini.

During public comment, several people spoke up concerned about the impact of having a recreational marijuana retailer in close proximity to a school.

“Cannabis products and THC is a psychoactive substance that does have the potential to derail the developmental milestones of young people,” said Steven Jackson with Hockanum Valley Community Council.

After a brief discussion, the commission decided to change the 500 feet to 3,000 feet, with some commissioners bringing up that they wanted the greater distance because students living within a certain distance of a school must walk to school and they didn’t want students having to walk by a cannabis shop twice a day.

Vernon can have up to two cannabis establishments, but the application approved on Thursday night not only lays out the distance from schools, it’ll also require a special permit approval process as well as when and where a cannabis retailer can operate.

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