Not a burning issue: Scant turnout as P&Z panel reviews medical marijuana regs
Updated 6:55 am, Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Could a medical marijuana dispensary open in the future on the Post Road or Main Street or at the old medical complex on Wilton Road, which many locals call Fort Apache.
Those were some of the locations for dispensaries discussed Monday night by members of a Planning and Zoning Commission subcommittee looking into how to regulate those types of facilities in town. There currently is a one-year moratorium on accepting applications for an outlet that could sell medical marijuana, as spelled out in state regulations approved last year.
At the start of the meeting, Chip Stephens, subcommittee member and P&Z chairman, said the group plans to review the issue and try to determine how best to deal with it locally.
"We are not for or against weed," Stephens said. He added that, given the topic, he was "amazed not a lot of the public" chose to attend.
"The moratorium expires in October and we have to be prepared to have something on the books," said Jack Whittle, another P&Z commissioner who sits on the subcommittee.
Right now, a medical marijuana dispensary would fall under "retail use," said Stephens. "Anywhere a pharmacy is allowed, this is allowed," added Planning and Zoning Director Larry Bradley.
"Only one guy -- a gentleman from Danbury -- sought a pre-application" to open a dispensary in Westport, Bradley said. When he was told the town had a moratorium in place, he didn't hear from the man again.
Whittle said that Fairfield's zoning board discussed a moratorium, but "thought to go under their existing rules." Two applications for medical marijuana dispensaries in that town were denied last year under the regulations already on the books, he said.
Stephens said he believes that the state regulations are "overbearing and very strict," and can't see why Westport's regulations "should be any stricter."
Town Attorney Ira Bloom, agreed, saying, "Connecticut has one of the more restrictive laws and that's a plus."
The P&Z subcommittee also discussed locations where a dispensary would not be allowed, called buffer areas. They would include sites near schools, houses of worship, day-care centers and playgrounds, Bloom explained. "If you have all these buffer areas and excluded them, there's not much area left" where a dispensary could be located, he added.
Concerns about signs for a dispensary were also raised, with Bradley saying they wouldn't want a dispensary displaying a "neon sign" with a marijuana leaf.
"I wonder if we are introducing too much of a fear factor," said P&Z member Alan Hodge. "This is a controlled drug that you can only get with a prescription."
At one point in the meeting, Representative Town Meeting member Don Bergman reminded the subcommittee that "medical marijuana deals with a very real problem."
He said his nephew and sister both had medical problems and that marijuana "would have alleviated some of their pain ... We need to approach it like a desirable medical treatment."
Stephens said he agreed with Bergman and that there would be town residents who would also agree. But, he added, there are the "reefer madness people" on the other side.
Whittle said there would be "a lot of citizens who think it's a good idea" until they learn a dispensary might be located near their property. But Stephens said if the state could pull in $10 million to $20 million in taxes from the medical marijuana business, the idea would "be more palatable."
Another meeting on the issue will take place in a few weeks, said Stephens, adding he hopes the public turns out. Only one citizen was in attendance Monday.