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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Committee Considers Medical Marijuana Regulations

By James Lomuscio

Whether Westport should have a medical marijuana dispensary, and if so, where, was the subject of a Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) subcommittee meeting tonight that seemed to raise more questions than answers.

WestportNow.com Image
Town Attorney Ira Bloom (l) makes a point as P&Z subcommittee members (l-r) Chip Stephens, Jack Whittle, and Alan Hodge, and P&Z Director Laurence Bradley listen. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

It was the subcommittee’s first meeting on the matter since the P&Z approved a one-year moratorium last year on accepting applications or approving permits for medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport.

Among the issues raised: should zoning require such dispensaries be far from schools, houses of worship, playgrounds, parks and residential areas?

Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley said he wanted committee input on setbacks and zones where a marijuana dispensary might be allowed, so he could map it for further examination.

P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens chaired the subcommittee. Other members present were Jack Whittle, P&Z vice chairman, Alan Hodge and Catherine Walsh.

“This is our first meeting, and we’re not here to be for or against smoking weed,” said Stephens. “We asked for a time out, and I’m amazed that not many people are here.”

The only members of the public to show were Sal Liccione and Don Bergmann, both who said that have relatives whose cancer battles could have been eased by access to marijuana.

The town has the option of doing nothing or deciding whether such a facility would fit within its zoning regulations.

“A moratorium is in place for us to gather our thoughts,” said Whittle. “Our moratorium will expire in October, so we need some laws about marijuana dispensaries.”

Town Attorney Ira Bloom noted that the nine Connecticut towns that have already proposed or adopted regulations for marijuana dispensaries and production facilities.

All of them have buffer conditions, and most of the approved dispensary and production facilities are in industrial parks, which Westport does not have.

The towns include Branford, Canton, East Hartford, Haddam, Middletown, Newington, Plainville, Southington and Torrington.

The buffer conditions vary from town to town, according to the report submitted by Bloom.

Newington, for one, requires such facilities be 1,000 feet from schools, houses of worship, playgrounds, parks, day care facilities, public buildings, private recreation facilities, other dispensaries and from single-family residential zones.

Plainville, by contrast, only requires a 500-foot setback from schools and 200 feet from residential zones.

Stephens said he just wanted to “throw some ideas on the wall to see if they will stick.” Suggestions for dispensary locations were along the Post Road corridor and Saugatuck.

Walsh suggested the medical complex on Wilton Road at Kings Highway North known as Fort Apache, saying that it already had been zoned as a medical facility.

“Medical marijuana deals with a real problem,” said Bergmann. “I have a sister who went through stomach cancer, and medical marijuana would have alleviated her pain. You have to approach it as a desirable medical treatment.”

“I agree with you,” Stephens responded, “but you will have the ‘reefer madness’ people on the other side who are just as passionate.”

Whittle said dispensaries, which will only deal in cash and have separate sections for “head shops” selling paraphernalia, would not only be for “those who have a true medical need, but recreational marijuana users” who obtain prescriptions.

He said that state data as of Jan. 1 show 1,634 Connecticut residents with a legitimate medical need.

“My observation is that it will not just be for that part of the population,” Whittle said.

He also cautioned that Westport might become a regional dispensary, attracting people from out of town.

Bloom said Connecticut’s medical marijuana law is one of the most restrictive in the country since the drug cannot be prescribed for chronic pain.

“It’s the law in Connecticut now, and you folks have to decide how restrictive you will be about areas where it is appropriate or not,” he said.

Stephens said that the subcommittee will hold another meeting on the topic in “two or three weeks.”

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Posted 02/25/14 at 01:59 AM  Permalink



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