by Doug McClure and Monica Cross, hardwick.media

this article will be updated online by another with vote results.

Voters in both Hardwick and Wolcott were asked about allowing retail cannabis sales when they went to the polls for Town Meeting on Tuesday. Residents in both towns were asked about whether to allow retail cannabis sales. Hardwick voters were further asked whether to allow “integrated licenses” for cannabis that would allow for a business to operate at all levels of the cannabis production process from cultivation to sales.

The cannabis topic has proved controversial in Hardwick.

The week leading up to the vote was an emotional one. Social media discussions were peppered with a wide array of anti-marijuana posts. Some sentiments were reminiscent of the 1936 film “Reefer Madness,” making unverified claims and predicting that roving drug dealers would be selling marijuana to children on playgrounds. Others chose to present certain scientific studies they said showed marijuana to be harmful. The primary consultant for the Hardwick Selectboard has been Healthy Lamoille Valley, which describes itself as an “anti-substance” organization. Selectboard members have been unconvinced thus far.

Various studies have attempted to prove cannabis to be either safe or unsafe. The current scientific reality is that most studies remain inconclusive or biased.  No substantiated and peer-reviewed study has found conclusive evidence that marijuana is harmful. Proponents claim that marijuana provides benefits for chronic conditions and mental health conditions. Federal funding remains unavailable for verifying these claims. Cannabis is still illegal under federal law. 

The potential economic impacts of local cannabis sales remain unclear. The question of a retail cannabis operation is, at this point, a largely rhetorical one. There are no available reports of businesses making inquiries about selling cannabis in Hardwick. Still, some residents have sought to paint a picture of businesses lining up to fill South Main Street’s vacant storefronts with cannabis shops. It is also not known what the economic impact on Hardwick will be if the questions are rejected locally but are approved by neighboring towns. The cannabis sale question is on the ballot in other nearby towns this year. Additionally, Morristown voters narrowly approved both retail and integrated sales on December 7, 2021. St Johnsbury voters approved them last March. Proponents have argued that when the emerging cannabis industry takes hold, it will have positive economic impacts in related or even tangential businesses. 

The timeline set by the state for the first retail cannabis shops to open will be in the late fall of 2022. The original timeline for the process decided by the legislature has been extended for myriad reasons, many of them logistical.