PZC Wants Public To Help Steer Decision On Cannabis Issue

Recreational cannabis became legal in Connecticut on July 1, 2021, but some cities and towns across the state are still figuring out whether to allow retail stores or horticultural operations within their boundaries.

Cheshire’s Planning and Zoning Commission, along with the Town’s Planning Department, is hoping that Cheshire residents will weigh in on how the issue should best be handled locally when it comes to tailoring cannabis regulations. A public hearing on the topic is scheduled for the PZC’s meeting to be held the evening of May 8.

Currently, there is a temporary moratorium on cannabis-related commercial activities in Cheshire, but that is set to expire in July. In anticipation, Town Planner Michael Glidden has been workshopping with the PZC to draft regulations regarding cannabis, and the current version, he stated, “very narrowly defines” where those establishments will be allowed to operate.

Current draft regulations would allow cannabis uses only in select locations in near proximity to I-84 and I-691, rather than in the center of Cheshire, per Glidden.

“The Commissioners want to hear from the public,” Glidden says. “If there’s a significant outcry we can look to pivot.”

Glidden also stressed that if the town fails to address the issue, it could ultimately lose control over where cannabis operations are located and which uses are allowed.

“(Absent a prohibition) commercial use would be allowed as of right (in a commercial zone),” Glidden explains.

Neighboring towns including Wolcott, Prospect, Wallingford, and Southington have prohibited cannabis operations. In Wallingford, that means a “producer, dispensary facility, cultivator, micro-cultivator, retailer, hybrid retailer, food and beverage manufacturer, product manufacturer, product packager, delivery service, or transporter” is not allowed in any zone. Similar language, borrowed from state statutes, appears in other towns’ regulations.

By contrast, Meriden now offers retail cannabis sales to adults, although a maximum of three stores will be allowed.

While reports suggest it may be too early to characterize state revenues as a windfall, especially for local governments, the sector is gaining momentum, along with official support from Hartford. The state’s website now offers an interactive map as to where recreational or medicinal marijuana can be purchased in the state.

In January, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz traveled to Meriden for a store-opening event with representatives of Verano Holdings, per an SEC filing. The company, which operates dispensaries in several states under the brand name Zen Leaf, among others, reported $879 million in revenue for 2022 — a profit of $423 million.

Despite its possible benefits for individuals, public health officials have been raising concerns about the negative impacts regular cannabis use can have on respiratory, behavioral, and emotional health, especially for young people. Educational campaigns are ongoing, but officials are aware that ease of access poses a formidable obstacle for harm reduction efforts, as does a perception of safety.

“While marijuana may be viewed by some as a marginally safer alternative for those who may abuse drugs, marijuana remains a substance that by itself is addictive and that dependence can lead to long term abuse and/or to abusing more dangerous types of substances like opioids,” the Connecticut Youth Services Association wrote in a recent Summary of Position Letter.

A recent report in the New York Post chronicled the tragic story of a 13-year-old Georgia boy who smoked from a “vape” device that contained both marijuana and fentanyl, an opioid about 50 times more powerful than heroin. He suffered a stroke and endured a two-and-a-half-week coma. Though he survived, the boy has lost sight in his right eye and function in his left arm, and now uses a wheelchair.

During the PZC’s previous meeting, at which several members of the public offered insights on other pending applications, Commissioner Sean Strollo remarked that input from residents is an important factor in the PZC’s deliberations.

“All the opinions should be heard and I’m happy that people from town are participating,” said Strollo.

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