A 12-month moratorium on accepting applications or approving permits for medical marijuana dispensaries and producers was unanimously approved Thursday night by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The P&Z vote came after a public hearing on the proposed amendment to the town's zoning regulations. No one in the audience spoke during the public hearing on the proposal, which surprised commission member, Chip Stevens. "I thought there would be a lot of people here," he said.
The moratorium was recommended by Town Attorney Ira Bloom at an earlier meeting. Bloom had suggested that zoning officials refrain from acting on any medical marijuana proposals because of the "newness" of the 72 pages of state regulations that took effect Sept. 6, said Laurence Bradley, the town's planning and zoning director.
Bradley said the moratorium will give the commission time to study the state regulations on producing and selling medical marijuana to determine how best to adopt them locally.
He said that, during the year-long moratorium, the P&Z gets time to review various options for potential town guidelines.
"A moratorium is a legal and an appropriate method" to handle the issue, he told the commission. He said a survey of other town offices found none have any objection to a moratorium on medical marijuana.
Bradley said that, while the moratorium would be in effect for a year, the commission could adopt its own regulations sooner. "You don't need to take a year, but it is adequate," he told the panel.
Jack Whittle, commission member, suggested setting up a "marijuana subcommittee" to "kick around some ideas." Lathrop suggested holding a public forum on medical marijuana "to give us some sense of what the people think."
Bradley said some other communities -- including Shelton, Ansonia, and Monroe -- have already adopted similar measures.
Earlier this month, the Fairfield's Town Plan and Zoning Commission voted down an two application to open medical marijuana dispensaries on a stretch of the Post Road near that town's border with Bridgeport.
After hearing neighborhood opposition to an application for a medical marijuana dispensary at 220 Post Road filed by Westport resident David Lipton -- the principal of CT Wellness Centers, located in Fairfield -- the Fairfield zoning panel unanimously denied the proposal. The panel then quickly also rejected a second compliance application for a dispensary facility just down the road from Lipton's proposal at 400 Post Road, which was filed by Robert Schulten, a resident of the Southport section of that town.
State law requires that anyone who wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary must first receive local zoning approval before applying to the state for a permit. There is a long list of state regulations that will govern dispensaries, including that there be a licensed pharmacist on site as well as security regulations. The regulations were adopted in August of this year, following approval of medical marijuana use in Connecticut by the General Assembly in 2012.