Clinton PZC Nixes cannabis retail proposition


By Eric O’Connell / • 09/21/2021 3:40 PM EST

On September 13, with overwhelming public support, the Clinton Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) voted against a proposed rule change that would have allowed a retail marijuana store to open.

Earlier this year, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill legalizing the state’s recreational use of marijuana by adults. As a result, it was up to the local zoning authorities to come up with regulations that allowed or did not allow the opening of a cannabis retail store.

The PZC’s regulatory subcommittee had proposed a zoning bylaw change that would have allowed cannabis retail operations to operate in Clinton by special exception in some of the city’s business districts.

After hearing testimony from more than a dozen people, mostly against the proposed settlement, the PZC rejected the request by six votes to one. Members Mary Ellen Dahlgren (R), Mike Knudsen (R), Eddie Alberino (R), Walter Clark (R), Martin Jaffe (D) and Alan Kravitz (D) voted to deny the request; only Democrat Will Benoit voted to approve it.

The public speaks

As PZC members had predicted, the virtual meeting attracted a large crowd of people interested in regulation. A total of 17 different members of the public spoke, 15 of whom opposed the settlement for a multitude of reasons.

Clinton Police Chief Vincent DeMaio began the public hearing by listing his concerns about the proposed settlement. DeMaio said that as other states legalized marijuana, black market sales have also increased, and not decreased as some had predicted.

DeMaio also expressed concerns about the ability to enforce the law against people who drive under the influence of marijuana.

“There is currently no standardized test like there is for alcohol for people who drive under the influence of marijuana,” DeMaio said.

“I oppose it as a resident, as a father and in my role as chief of police,” he concluded.

Many of the speakers who attended the meeting were current or former members of Partners in Community (PIC), a community group dedicated to promoting healthy habits and preventing substance abuse among Clinton teens.

Kelley Edwards, the prevention coordinator of PIC, pointed out during part of her testimony that many banks do not recognize the retail sale of marijuana as a legitimate business, which creates the potential for crime.

“We would have a store with a lot of money and a lot of products in it. If you don’t think that would be a target, you’re crazy, ”Edwards said.

Although retail cannabis is aimed at adults, most of the speakers opposed to regulation focused their concerns on the impact of a retail marijuana store on the city’s youth. Some argued that a store would make it easier for teens who still have a developing mind, others spoke of family members who struggled with addiction or mental health issues from an early age and of their belief that marijuana sparked these struggles, and others just felt the youth of the city. would be bombarded with advertisements for the products.

Other speakers worried about the “types of people” a marijuana store would attract.

“I think it could open the door to a lot more of a culture than we foresee,” said Andrea Reu.

Reu argued that there is a difference between people who consume alcohol and cannabis.

“I invite the members of [PZC] visit a neighboring state’s dispensaries and see the kind of environment that is in the parking lot that surrounds it. We can pretend that it does not exist, but it does exist. We are a small community and this kind of element will have a significant cost not only for the police services, but will be more of an expense than an income, ”said Reu.

Joe Alves also shared with the commission his thoughts on people he saw queuing at a dispensary in a neighboring state.

“I couldn’t tell the difference between that and a soup kitchen in Middletown or Bridgeport. People who look disheveled, people who look sloppy, frankly, losers. That’s who was in that line, ”Alves said.

Alves also targeted State Senator Norm Needleman (D-33) who represents Clinton. Alves called Needleman “wanton” and criticized him for voting “with his urban siblings who are the force behind this legislation to legalize marijuana” in favor of the law.

However, not all speakers or committee members were against the proposed amendments. Eric Andersen spoke in favor of the proposal and argued that cannabis products would be intended for adult consumption and, as with other similar substances, it is the responsibility of parents to educate them. children not to take them.

“It’s up to us as parents to make sure they understand the consequences,” said Andersen.

Andersen also argued that a store in Clinton would attract locals who would bring their cash to spend in town.

“Every time someone buys, they are investing in our city,” said Andersen.

Subsequent speakers corrected Andersen’s claim that the money would go to the general fund, as the legislation allocated money from marijuana sales to certain projects.

Andersen also disputed that retail marijuana in Clinton would be actively marketed to young people in the city or that smokers would cause pollution or problems in the city.

“We just want to be able to buy marijuana legally and not have to travel far for it,” Andersen said.

Mary Jo Phelps said she is neither speaking for nor against the proposal, but pointed out that the city already has several establishments that sell alcohol, a legal harmful substance.

The deliberations

At the time of deliberation, PZC members indicated that the majority of speakers were against the proposal as a reason for rejecting the nomination. Other reasons cited included the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal, a reluctance to be known as the destination of choice for the shore pot, and fears that the state will increase the number of licensed cannabis stores in each. town (under current regulations towns the size of Clinton would only be allowed one store, although there is speculation that will change in the future).

Commission member Will Benoit voted against the refusal motion, but did not explain why during the discussion. Benoit explained his reason after the meeting to Harbor News.

Benoit pointed out that many young people do not share the same concerns about the product as older people and that a store could attract this population, which the city is trying to attract.

“This appears to be a missed growth opportunity for our city. Like many cities before us, a dispensary would increase foot traffic to restaurants, cafes, bars and our developing cultural district, which could have helped make Clinton a destination here on the shore, ”said Benoit.

“We could use the revenue from legal cannabis for drug treatment, education and drug prevention, but instead we choose to turn a blind eye to the changes in our society and culture. The best way to teach children and adults about drugs and addiction is to demystify and de-stigmatize drugs in the light of day, ”said Benoit.

“We know all too well that children can find unregulated drugs on the black market that potentially contain fentanyl or other deadly substances, which, as a parent, is a far scarier prospect than facing the problem. head-on marijuana, ”he continued.

Benoit also said he believed local police and government would be able to regulate the substance in any meaningful way and, with the state making the substance legal, Benoit said it was a missed opportunity to change the regulations. .

“I think it is our responsibility as an elected commission to implement the new laws and regulations in a manner consistent with our city and its sustainable growth, so I am truly disappointed that we have not been able to deliver at such a potentially important time, ”said Benoît.

And after

At a September 15 meeting, Clinton City Council members unanimously said they were in favor of passing an ordinance that would also ban the retail sale of marijuana in Clinton. Council said such an ordinance will be proposed at the next city council meeting. Any proposed ordinance should have its own public hearing where, once again, citizens can make their thoughts known on the matter.

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