By Meg Hibbert Contributing Writer
Should a referendum be held on permitting marijuana outlets in Salem? That was the topic of Salem City Council’s work session Aug. 9.
City Attorney Jim Guynn summarized what’s in the Virginia’s Cannabis Control Act that will regulate the sale of marijuana. In April Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law the act that establishes a new state authority that will oversee and issue business licenses to sell marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2024.
Guynn explained if Council wants, the city could hold a local referendum, perhaps as early as the November general election, on whether citizens want marijuana dispensaries.
Under the state law, localities have the power to petition the circuit court for the city or county to issue a referendum on whether to allow retail marijuana.
Salem could also change zoning and land use ordinances to regulate where businesses licensed to sell marijuana could be located in the city, and has the power to fix hours for sales.
Suggested wording for a referendum is confusing, Guynn pointed out, because “A No vote is actually in favor of allowing marijuana stores.”
If a majority of voters vote Yes not to allow stores, another referendum can be held four years later, Guynn said.
If Salem does not hold a referendum to prohibit marijuana stores, they will automatically be allowed, he explained.
Council members mentioned that if Salem doesn’t allow marijuana sales, the city will miss out on tax revenue from business and sales taxes. Guynn said there will be up to 400 marijuana retail shops statewide
“My guess is the City of Roanoke is not going to have a referendum,” the city attorney said.
Councilman Randy Foley said he has always been anti-referendum. “That’s why we’re elected, to make decisions,” he said.
In answer to questions from Councilmembers, Guynn said he was not aware of any other jurisdiction in this part of the state that has set a referendum.
“This discussion is food for thought. Let me know if you are going to a referendum, zoning or not,” he said.
In other matters on the agenda at the regular Aug. 9 meeting, Council:
- Heard from property owner Angela Lieb during the Citizen Comment period, who said the lower floor of her triplex flooded because a fiber company cut water and sewer lines to the house. It took from March until the end of May to clean up around the home, she said. “I don’t want to see this happen to other people.” She added, “Beware, they usually come to your property after people have gone to work.”
- On second reading, passed rezoning for Preston Place – the former White Oak Tea Tavern building owned by the Salem Historical Society – to be used as a massage therapy business; as well as
- Rezoned properties at East Main Street and Dalewood Avenue to allow an enclosed storage business;
- Authorized the city to be fiscal agent for Cardinal Criminal Justice Academy which leases a city-owned building, and Court-Community Corrections;
- Re-appropriated $40,000 for a 3/4-ton sewer vehicle that was not available last fiscal year;
- Approved the fiscal year 2022 performance contract with Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare.
The Council meeting in Salem Council Chambers in City Hall ended at 6:51 p.m.