The coastal towns of Mendocino County have created a kind of cannabis “turf war” by passing moratoriums and ordinances to keep the highly profitable marijuana industry out. The drug is still illegal under federal law, but state laws are going to change in 2020 or 2022 at some point. With all that uncertainty, these communities don’t want any part of this booming business.,
Despite the fact that recreational cannabis became legal for adults in Connecticut earlier this summer, with retail sales set to begin by the end of 2022, multiple shoreline towns have taken legislative action to prohibit cannabis establishments, either temporarily or permanently in the case of Clinton.
A producer, dispensary, grower, micro-cultivator, retailer, hybrid retailer, food and beverage maker, product manufacturer, product packager, and delivery service or transporter are all considered cannabis establishments under Public Act 21-1.
All the time, all the tales
The Planning and Zoning Commission conducted a public hearing in September on a rule written to enable a marijuana business as defined by state legislation, according to Clinton Town Manager Karl Kilduff.
Local authorities may use zoning to regulate the number and locations of cannabis businesses, as well as select where smoking and vaping is permitted, according to state law.
“The proposed regulation was met with tremendous resistance at the public hearing, and the Planning & Zoning Commission ultimately rejected the ordinance allowing for marijuana shops,” Kilduff stated.
The ordinance legalizing establishments was opposed by 15 of the 17 persons who testified at the hearing, including David Melillo, director of Clinton Human Services, and Vincent DeMaio, Clinton’s police chief. Only one voter was undecided, while one advocated for permitting establishments.
DeMaio expressed worries about the regulation’s impact on public safety, citing the “severe illegal market” that recreational cannabis would generate. He mentioned a recent $100 million bailout granted by California to the legal cannabis business, which he claims is struggling to compete with the criminal market.
“That is going to come to our town because I’m sure Madison isn’t going to have one, Guilford isn’t going to have one, and Westbrook isn’t going to have one,” DeMaio said of marijuana dispensaries. “We’d be the only town along the coast.”
Before writing a local ordinance and having a public hearing, the Town Council debated the matter and its own jurisdiction under state legislation to approve one, according to Kilduff.
“The law that would prohibit marijuana enterprises as a land use received great support at the Council’s public hearing,” Kilduff stated on Thursday. “The Town Council overwhelmingly adopted the ordinance after that.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries are likewise prohibited under Clinton’s existing zoning restrictions.
In an email sent Thursday, Guilford First Selectman Matt Hoey said that the town’s moratorium allows for complete community input and debate.
Guilford’s Developmental Assets for Youth group requested a permanent ban, which the Board of Selectmen refused to approve until they had a better understanding of the decision criteria.
“Their appeal said that such a prohibition would convey a message to the young and their parents about the harms, especially connected to brain development, associated with cannabis usage,” Hoey wrote on Thursday.
In a recording of an Oct. 18 Board of Selectman meeting, Paige Checci, a Guilford resident with a master’s degree in medical cannabis science and therapeutics from the University of Maryland Baltimore, said she believes the blanket moratorium denies opportunities to residents, particularly entrepreneurs who want to apply for cannabis business licenses.
“Local support and zoning approval are required to apply, and if this moratorium extends into the period when the Department of Consumer Protection begins accepting applications, Guilford may miss out on an opportunity to bring jobs and commerce to the community,” Checci said in the meeting recording.
Checci said she understands citizens’ worries about retail, but she was referring about production, cultivation, manufacturing, and business-to-business trade.
She recommended that the PZC examine each application individually and go through a conditional or special use procedure.
“I don’t believe we should refuse employment, trade, or good business,” Checci remarked. “In Connecticut, a billion-dollar business is growing, so why should Guilford say no while other towns and localities say yes and profit?”
In Guilford, the moratorium was unanimously accepted until June 30, 2022, unless an earlier agreement is obtained or the moratorium is changed or overturned. Discussions on this subject might start as soon as the next few weeks.
Hoey wrote on Thursday that he supports the interim ban and that its conclusion is contingent on the findings of community participation guiding individual choices as well as a vote by the Board of Selectmen.
A similar move was made in Madison, although this time by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The moratorium applies to “applications seeking to establish the use of land and/or structures for a cannabis establishment and other uses related to recreational marijuana,” as well as “acceptance, review, and/or approval of applications seeking to establish the use of land and/or structures for a cannabis establishment and other uses related to recreational marijuana.”
Madison has imposed a nine-month embargo on zoning restrictions until the commission approves them. It was overwhelmingly accepted on October 21.
Peggy Lyons, the First Selectwoman, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Planning and Zoning Commission in North Branford adopted a same step, extending its embargo for another year, until Oct. 21, 2022.
The commission did so by changing section 23.2.7 of the zoning rules. The commission now has language prohibiting cannabis businesses, medical marijuana manufacturers, dispensary facilities, and/or retail or distribution from applying for permits. Previously, only medical marijuana manufacturers, dispensary facilities, and retail or distribution were included by the phrase.
The panel also explored organizing a vote in North Branford to decide if recreational marijuana sales should be permitted, which Chairman Harry Dulak said should only be presented before the Town Council once anything had been put together or public discussion had taken place.
In a meeting tape, commission member Tricia Mase said that the moratorium provides the commission time to study the legislation and develop its own rule.
In a recording, member Robert Nowak stated, “I’m in support of pushing it forward so we have more time to study and figure out what we want to do with the cannabis sale and production in North Branford.”
Other members agreed, saying it allows them time to consider the views of the state and the community, as well as the possible impact on North Branford’s economic growth.