Westport bans recreational marijuana businesses - for now

Photo of Amanda Cuda
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019, file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. Westport's Planning and Zoning commission recently voted to approve a temporary prohibition of any businesses in town related to the production and sale of recreational marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019, file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. Westport’s Planning and Zoning commission recently voted to approve a temporary prohibition of any businesses in town related to the production and sale of recreational marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Richard Vogel / Associated Press

WESTPORT — A temporary prohibition of any businesses in town related to the production and sale of recreational marijuana goes into effect Wednesday.

The text amendment, which was approved unanimously this month by the Planning and Zoning Commission, states that “all cannabis establishments, with the exception of medical dispensary facilities, are prohibited in all zoning districts in the Town of Westport.”

The resolution was made in response to a state law, which went into effect July 1, legalizing the possession and use of recreational marijuana for adults.

The law opens the door to retail sales as soon as next year, and municipalities are considering what stance they should take on these facilities.

Planning and Zoning Commission chairwoman Danielle Dobin said the commission opted to temporarily prohibit these businesses because “we didn’t have the information and time to properly explore this.”

Since Westport is already home to a medical marijuana dispensary, Dobin believes there would be interest in opening businesses related to recreational marijuana. However, Dobin said, there are too many unanswered questions about the impact these businesses would have on the town.

“One of our most pressing issues in Westport is traffic,” Dobin said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have exacerbated the problem. Many of those who used to commute into New York City are now working at home, she said.

“All those cars that were in the now-empty train stations parking lots are now on the streets,” Dobin said.

There were some concerns that adding a recreational marijuana business to town could worsen the problem, she said, particularly if Westport was the only town in the immediate area with such a businesses.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the line of cars that we would see for a recreational dispensary,” Dobin said.

It’s also unclear what stance other towns will take on these businesses, she said. So far, some other towns have prohibited the sale of recreational marijuana, including Greenwich, while others, including Darien, are considering such a ban.

Dobin said the temporary prohibition gives local officials, including members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting, time to consider the issue and make changes in the future.

At least one RTM member said he was “ecstatic” about the P&Z decision. Jimmy Izzo, who represents Westport’s third district, said he thought state officials were “irresponsible” in legalizing recreational marijuana, since there is too much of a gray area when it comes to enforcing “drugged” driving.

Though operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a crime in Connecticut, “a good roadside test for drug levels in the body doesn’t yet exist,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This is a problem, according to Izzo, who is also the chair of the RTM public protection committee.

“I don’t care about who smokes pot,” he said. “I just think the laws around drugged driving aren’t there.”