Westport to vote on recreational pot ban
WESTPORT — While state legislators have continued deliberating over the idea of making recreational pot use legal, two Westporters are being proactive in ensuring the town approaches the idea safely.
On Oct. 1, the Representative Town Meeting will vote on a proposed town ordinance to ban the sale of recreational marijuana for two years in town. The ordinance, proposed by RTM members Greg Kraut and Jimmy Izzo earlier this year, aims to give Westport time to fully asses the effects of marijuana legalization.
“We find that more information is needed,” Kraut said. “We don’t want our town to be a guinea pig.”
This comes a day after Gov. Ned Lamont and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced they plan to work together on regulations for vaping products and a possible legalized recreational marijuana program.
Kraut emphasized he and Izzo are not against medical marijuana in any form, but towns in other states with medical marijuana facilities were impacted the fastest when recreational pot usage became legal there.
“If you’re looking at other states, the first that goes recreational are those facilities,” Kraut said.
Currently the only medical marijuana facility in Westport is Bluepoint Wellness of Westport. The facility was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2018 and opened this summer. In January, a large stake in the shop was bought by Chicago-based company Green Thumbs Industries, a national player in the medical and recreational marijuana business.
Kraut said the proposed ordinance not only gives the town time to equip itself for a change, but it could allow for more research on marijuana to be published.
“We believe we need to be able to take a pause so that our residents, police officers, and emergency personnel can really look at what’s been done,” Kraut said. “They’ll be able to look at what’s worked, what hasn’t worked and then we can see what the state’s going to put out.”
The RTM could also choose whether or not to continue the ban after a year.
If approved, the ordinance would be the first of its kind in Connecticut, but Kraut said local governments in other states have followed similar paths.
“In New Jersey, around 60 local governments have proactively banned it,” he said. “There’s precedent here for this, and again we know enough about what’s happening in other states.”
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said it is not yet clear if the ordinance would violate state law, should pot become legal, but noted he would seek answers from the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee and General Law Committee.
“My intention is to testify on Tuesday,” Steinberg said. “Even without those answers, this ordinance is premature.”
According to Steinberg, even if the state legalized recreational marijuana it would still take an additional two years to implement a system.
“There’s no rush on this,” he said.
Many vocal opponents to the recreational pot legalization use have noted higher rates of cannabis use among young people in states where marijuana is legal. Some local law enforcement have also voiced concern with lack of resources to deal with the issue.
“I think there’s enough data points I’ve seen where we have to pause to look at them,” Kraut said. “This includes the high potency THC that is reportedly several times stronger than what it was 20 years ago.”
While he could not comment on how the passage of the ordinance could influence other Connecticut towns, Kraut hopes it will help start a larger dialogue.
“One would hope that if enough towns would follow our lead we could have a meaningful integral conversation with the state,” he said.