NEWTOWN — Leaders here were concerned enough about the unintended consequences of Connecticut’s legal marijuana trade that they saw no downside to being first in the Danbury area to prohibit cannabis establishments.
At the suggestion of First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, who said, “the prudent approach is to prohibit cannabis establishments until we better understand the dynamics of the new law,” the Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing on July 1, the same night that Connecticut decriminalized marijuana.
After hearing testimony from a state senator, a union leader, the town’s health director, the head of a substance abuse prevention nonprofit and Rosenthal, the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission suggested a moratorium on retail cannabis establishments and medical marijuana facilities starting Dec. 1.
George Benson, the town’s planning director, recommended swifter action.
“We should act to prohibit it tonight, and it can be revisited later,” Benson said.
The volunteer five-member Planning and Zoning Commission agreed, voting 4-1 to prohibit cannabis enterprises looking to do business in town, such as cultivators, producers, retailers, and medicinal dispensaries.
Newtown’s prohibition will not affect adults who may now have marijuana for their own use.
Under the new state law, people who are 21 and older may have 1.5 ounces of marijuana with them and up to five more ounces of marijuana in a secure location, such as their home or car. The law allows patients in Connecticut’s medical marijuana program to have three mature marijuana plants and three smaller plants in their home — a provision that will extend to the general adult public in 2023.
Although the retail sales of adult-use marijuana are not expected to begin in Connecticut until the end of 2022, Benson said during the public hearing that Newtown was “concerned about people filling out applications or purchasing buildings, giving them vested rights before regulations could be put in place.”
The state has created a cannabis website to help people understand the new law.
Rosenthal said towns across the state have been having the same debate since the state Senate passed the “extensive and groundbreaking new law” on June 22.
“While I have no issue with the legalization of the possession of cannabis, there is more at stake here as we consider the retail sale,” Rosenthal wrote in a letter that was read at the public hearing. “We have one chance to get this right and trying to do so in the span of two weeks does not make for good public policy.”
Danbury, which has already approved a Bethel-based medical marijuana dispensary’s move to a former bank on the city’s west side, will consider a moratorium on cannabis establishments on July 27. Waterbury has scheduled a public hearing about a moratorium on new cannabis establishments at the end of the month.
Prospect has passed a six-month moratorium on all new cannabis establishments. In Ridgefield, which already bans medical marijuana dispensaries, First Selectman Rudy Marconi has proposed banning retail cannabis.
At Newtown’s public hearing, concern for youth was a dominant theme.
“I cannot believe the state of Connecticut has approved the legal use of cannabis with the increase that we have seen in drug use,” said Dorrie Carolan, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Newtown Parent Connection, in written testimony. “At some point we need to protect our youth and put aside the monetary benefits of legalizing marijuana.”
State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Newtown, agreed, saying in written testimony that marijuana is “a drug that is medically proven to adversely impact the cognitive development of young people and can serve as a gateway drug to addiction.”
Newtown’s prohibition, which becomes effective on July 24, rescinds zoning that allows medical marijuana dispensaries in town.
In 2018, the Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission approved a medical marijuana dispensary that never went through because the vendor was denied a license by the state Department of Consumer Protection.