By SHERIDAN ROY
The Planning and Zoning Committee unanimously approved changes to regulation language surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries. The new language implements separation distances, or buffers, of 750-feet from public buildings and residential zones for medical marijuana dispensaries—distances that already apply to medical marijuana producers—in all B (business) and CB (central business) zones.
The vote came after a public hearing on Feb. 5 in which members of the public came out in support of the language changes.
Language was reviewed by a PZC subcommittee, the cannabis committee, which looked back to 2012 when the town’s medical marijuana regulations first were implemented and found that producers had clear-cut separation distances from sensitive receptors, but dispensaries did not.
“The proposal here is to incorporate the same separations for producers and dispensaries,” said director of planning and development Rob Phillips. “Our proposal is to look at the separation regulations outlined for producers and add the terms ‘or dispensaries’ to any section or subsection. It’s rather simple.”
Phillips said there was also a drive within the committee to look at the purpose of the regulations. With knowledge that the state of Connecticut is looking at retail and recreational legalization of marijuana, the committee wanted to “make sure our regulations are specific to medical marijuana and nothing else,” he said.
“We want to make that clear, so the proposed language to add to the purpose section would be to not permit any resale or wholesale of products not related to medical marijuana,” Phillips said. “It’s a belt-and-suspenders approach that allows for only medical marijuana to be sold out of dispensaries if the state follows the Massachusetts model, where they allow retail recreational to be sold out of medical dispensaries.”
The PZC’s regulations are permissive regulations, which means if it is not directly permitted, it is expressly prohibited. The Town Attorney supported that argument, said Phillips.
In addition, it is not under the town’s purview to ban retail recreational marijuana if it does become legal in the state. The PZC only has power over land use.
“If it becomes something like cigarettes or alcohol, that would be bigger than the PZC,” said Phillips.
STEPS (Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success) Youth Council member Margaret Miller, a middle school student, spoke in favor of the language change.
“With these regulations, the dispensaries and producers of marijuana would be further away from the school I go to,” she said. “Medical marijuana might be the only thing that helps people with severe medical conditions. That doesn’t mean the hazardous product should be placed in prying hands due to recreational use.”
There are just four producers in the state currently, but as the need for medical marijuana rises, or if the state approves retail recreational marijuana, likely the number of producers will rise to keep up with demand. PZC chair Mike Del Santo said even if the PZC approves a dispensary or a producer’s application, the applicant would have to receive licensure from the state.
Last year, the PZC did approve a medical marijuana dispensary application, but it was denied licensure by the state, so it did not open.
“I am very proud of the cannabis committee for their work,” said Del Santo. “We are not the moral police. We are not telling people what they can and can’t do regarding medical marijuana. This is a land use committee and we stick to that.”
The language change will become effective on Feb. 20.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.