By SHERIDAN CYR
Discussion continues as the town considers a permit application for a medical marijuana dispensary in Southington. Following a public hearing on Tuesday, March 6, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to keep the hearing open until their next scheduled meeting on March 20.
The commission felt the applicant, Praveen Dhulipalla and his attorney, April Arrasate, did not present enough information at the March 6 meeting in order for them to make a decision. They seek more detail on the effect on property values, traffic and the character of the neighborhood and town. The proposed location for the facility is 995 Queen Street.
The two were asked to return with those details.
Arrasate’s presentation used the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection’s official medical marijuana presentation as a reference as well as answered personalized questions for the applicant’s objectives.
There are currently nine medical marijuana dispensaries in the state and four producers, serving approximately 24,000 patients. All are heavily regulated. The state lists debilitating medical conditions that qualify a patient to be able to obtain a license for the product. Such conditions on the list include cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and additional severe diagnoses.
Arrasate said that, under current state legislation, conditions such as anxiety or pain are not enough to qualify for a medicinal marijuana license.
During the presentation, Arrasate said medical marijuana dispensaries differ from pharmacies in a distinct manner. For a patient to obtain medication from a pharmacy, they must see a physician who then writes a specific prescription and amount. The patient then takes that to the pharmacist and gets it filled. With a dispensary, a doctor will provide the qualified patient with a certification stating the patient could potentially benefit from medical marijuana, but does not prescribe a dosage.
The patient relies on the dispensary’s pharmacist to create a counseling relationship to determine the particular dosage appropriate. Arrasate said that this counseling takes time – about 30 minutes per patient.
“It’s important to understand,” said Arrasate. “People get afraid that there’s going to be tons of people coming through. What we’re seeing is very sick people, coming in very few at a time, and counseling with a physician.”
Every piece of product is in a sealed, childproof, opaque container, Arrasate said, with a security guard on sight. No products can be used, or opened, on-site.
“You can’t access the building unless you have a registration card from the state,” she said. “There is extremely limited access.”
Besides the licensed patients, the only other person allowed entry is the patient’s caregiver, who must also be registered and given a background check through the state. To enter, patients must show their license to a camera, then be buzzed into the building.
“The product is pharmaceutical-grade. Imagine this as a true medicine,” said Arrasate. “I would love to erase the prior opinions about medical marijuana and allow people to see it as true medicine.”
Commissioner Peter Santago asked the applicant and attorney, “Why Southington, and why this particular location?”
“We felt the valley area is under-served,” said Dhulipalla. “The nearest facilities are in Bristol and Waterbury. Those are not on the highway and not very convenient.”
The location itself has approximately 40 parking spots. The facility will look like a standard medical building, with no large signs or posters. It is shared with a sewing store shortly before the Plainville town line.
Arrasate said there would be a waiting area within the facility, so loitering outside the building will not be an issue.
A number of residents shared concerns at the hearing. Chris Palmieri, president of the Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) read a statement from the organization which has been conducting an informational campaign in the community about the dangers of marijuana use.
Palmieri said this facility would have a negative impact on youth, stating he was “fearful it would allow our community to further desensitize youth” to the subject of marijuana usage. Additionally, he said the facility was not in correspondence with the character of the town of Southington. Nine STEPS members stood behind Palmieri in support.
Resident of a nearby address to the location, Tracey Wales, shared concerns about the building itself, stating it is a congested corner and is four houses down from a school bus stop. Additionally, she said the sewing store offers classes, and the parking lot overflows into street parking.
Past STEPS member Victoria Triano said the facility would “undermine all of the work that’s been done by STEPS and other anti-drug organizations,” calling it “inappropriate.” She also noted the attorney is personally involved as the chair of the medical marijuana program of the state’s Bar Association.
Resident Melissa Murphy said, “Let’s not jump on the bandwagon.” She too said it would send a bad message to youth.
Ultimately, after much discussion, the PZC felt the applicant and attorney needed to provide more data before they could make a decision. DelSanto reminded residents that everything said during that meeting was on the record, and at the second public hearing, that information would not need to be restated.
The next PZC meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 20, at 7 p.m., in the John Weichsel Municipal Center assembly room.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.