By SHERIDAN ROY
No action was taken on any regulation changes, but the cannabis committee, a subcommittee of the Planning and Zoning Commission charged with reviewing the regulations surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries and producers, presented an update at the Nov. 20 PZC meeting.
The update outlined the effects the current regulations have and what effects proposed regulations would have to help the PZC decide if local regulations should be modified as state lawmakers continue to consider legalizing marijuana facilities in Connecticut.
The PZC is considering changes to regulations to include separation distances, or “buffers,” of 750-feet from public buildings and residential zones for new medical marijuana dispensaries—distances which already apply to medical marijuana producers—in all B (business) and CB (central business) zones. The report also examined if dispensary locations should be restricted to industrial zones, and if those separation distances would apply in that scenario, too.
The committee also discussed if language should be added into the regulations stating that retail or wholesale recreational sale is not permitted within any producers or dispensaries in town, given that the reality that recreational marijuana may be passed by the state legislature in the near future.
Rob Phillips, director of planning and community development, presented four maps to the PZC with options for each zone. Two focused on CB/B zones, and two focused on industrial zones.
The first map showed where all CB/B zones are located in Southington, and a second map showed the CB/B zones with two different buffers: a 750-foot buffer around public buildings, and a 750-foot buffer around residential zones. The remaining areas would potentially be available for dispensaries if the regulations were changed to include those buffers.
The third map showed where all industrial zones are located, and a fourth map showed the same 750-foot buffers surrounding public buildings and residential zones.
“The intent of the committee was to review the regulations and make sure we were looking at it as a whole,” said Jen Clock, PZC commissioner and chair of the cannabis committee. “We had people come out in support of [the medical marijuana dispensary] and people come out against it, so you have to take into consideration both sides and say, ‘what were the concerns of the people against it,’ and also recognize that this is a tax base and will bring in money for the town of Southington.”
Earlier that same day, Massachusetts passed legislation that legalized recreational marijuana.
“My argument is that this [current regulation language] specifically references medical marijuana, but given this current status of Massachusetts as of today, and the fact that the governor-elect is on the record stating that we should be following after the state of Massachusetts, my feeling is that it’s likely probably going to be sooner than later as far as the retail component,” said Phillips. “It’s probably going to end up first in dispensary locations so we want to make sure we’re doubling down and not permitting that in these establishments.”
The State of Connecticut regulates the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed in a municipality, but the town itself relies on its regulations in order to determine zoning locations for those dispensaries. The PZC approved one medical marijuana dispensary to be located on Knotter Drive already.
“I have been meeting with [the cannabis committee] for the past couple of months, and I think it’s very proactive, especially in regards with what will happen I the state. I think it’s amazing that we have a committee talking about this,” said Kelly Leppard, Youth Services department staff member and member of the Southington Town Effort to Promote Success (STEPS). “I felt they took STEPS and our concerns into consideration.”
Leppard said the PZC does not put opinions into their business decisions. They are bound to what the regulations state.
“We appreciate them letting us be a part of the process, and I think the proactive discussion is great,” said Leppard.
STEPS advisory board chair and Town Council chair Chris Palmieri said he hopes to see a change in the regulations.
“What they’re doing is a step towards protecting our kids and basically stating that if it’s not considered medical marijuana, we’re going to try to regulate in town,” said Palmieri. “I’m hoping this regulation will strengthen, so that we don’t have recreational-selling facilities in town, should the day come that it’s ever legalized.”
Palmieri thanked Leppard for her work in representing STEPS on the cannabis committee.
Going forward, to change language in a regulation, the PZC would need to schedule and hold a public hearing, then take a vote on the matter.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.