Medical marijuana dispensaries given the go-ahead in Westport
Updated 1:26 pm, Thursday, June 15, 2017
WESTPORT — At least two medical marijuana dispensaries are eyeing a move to town after zoning passed a carefully worded measure permitting the facilities.
“We are helping patients maintain their pain level and not take opiates as well as getting them off and reducing their intake of opiates,” said Angela D’Amico, owner of Compassionate Care Center of Connecticut in Bethel — which opened in 2014 and remains the only medical marijuana dispensary in Fairfield County.
D’Amico is exploring a move to Westport because she said and the majority of her patients live in mid and lower Fairfield County.
In a unanimous vote on June 1, the six-member Planning and Zoning Commission supported an amendment permitting two dispensaries to operate in nonresidential districts and at least 1,000 feet from any school, place of worship, public park, public building or public recreation area. Around 60 town properties fit these restrictions.
Because of the limited number of licenses
Medical Marijuana Dispensary Facilities
granted by the state and the fact that Connecticut doesn’t regulate pricing, the nine operating dispensaries in the state are able to set their own prices, often making it difficult for patients to afford the medicine. The commission set the number of dispensaries allowed in town at two because they wanted to prevent one company from monopolizing town sales.
For patients over 18 to qualify for a medical marijuana certificate in Connecticut they need to have grave health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, glaucoma and Parkinson’s Disease. Children under 18 can qualify as patients if they have a select debilitating medical condition such as cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis.
D’Amico’s Bethel facility services over 3,000 patients from all over Fairfield County, some from lower Litchfield County and some from western New Haven County. She said the Compassionate Care Center provides effective and necessary medicine to a lot of residents in the state as well as helping to combat the opioid crisis.
“We are helping patients maintain their pain level and not take opiates as well as getting them off and reducing their intake of opiates,” D’Amico said.
Because Connecticut uses a pharmaceutical model for their dispensaries, only a pharmacist can distribute the medicine. Compassionate Care employs four pharmacists.
Her car was scratched and she had tomatoes thrown at it in Fairfield because of her attempts to open a center in that town. D’Amico was turned down and faced stiff opposition by nine Fairfield County towns in the application process. She says she has gone to all the trouble and withstood verbal attacks because she wanted to bring medical marijuana options to patients in need. The dispensary’s most used forms of medicine are traditional flower — the raw organic product — and cannabis oil that can be put in a capsule and swallowed. The oil can also be consumed by placing it under the tongue.
“It’s the reefer madness mentality. I could only wish that they could spend a day in my life and see the benefits these patients experience,” D’Amico said.
Cathy Walsh, the P&Z chairwoman, voiced reservations June 1 about passing the measure because she felt the town was catering to the business of two companies seeking to open shops in town: Compassionate Care Center of Connecticut/ D&B Wellness in Bethel and Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut in Branford.
“I don’t like it because I feel like we’re just catering to these two companies. … If there were a larger pool of licenses and if it were legal, I wouldn’t have an issue,” Walsh said. Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Connecticut; however, there are only nine medical marijuana facilities licensed by the state Department of Consumer Protection. The bill allowing dispensaries was signed in 2012.
Commissioner Chip Stephens pushed back on Walsh’s concerns and emphasized the importance of providing a close option for Westporters—afflicted by serious medical issues—to obtain their medicine.
“Cathy, you’re missing the point. This is for people that are racked with cancer,” Stephens said.
“We’re accommodating these people and it has nothing to do with the two vendors. It has nothing to do with recreational. It has nothing to do with vendors. It has to do with compassion and helping people live out the last days of their lives and Westport is a very compassionate community,” he said.
Without the amendment, Commissioner Paul Lebowitz said it would leave the town open to an application without a regulation in place and could result in a dispensary opening in an undesirable part of town.
“The true beneficiaries here are those suffering illnesses and pain,” said commissioner Danielle Dobin, stressing the point that the amendment is exclusively for medical marijuana and not recreational use.