New Canaan weighs options on medical pot shops
Published 11:44 am, Friday, November 7, 2014
New Canaan's moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries was recently renewed for a year, but officials are wasting no time in trying to figure out what to do after it expires.
On Oct. 28, Town Attorney Ira Bloom told the Planning and Zoning Commission it has three choices: forbid such outlets entirely, allow them in designated parts of the town or do nothing until there's an application.
"To some degree, we're in a wait-and-see period in the state of Connecticut," he said. "I think you're OK for another year, but it's probably wise to monitor this closely and seriously think about which of these options you want to do."
Medical marijuana became legal in Connecticut in 2012, but the state has authorized only six dispensaries so far. The first shop opened Aug. 20 in South Windsor, and the only one in Fairfield County opened Sept. 16 in Bethel. The law currently limits each county to one dispensary.
"There's no indication that I am aware that the state could grant further licenses, but this could happen at any point," Bloom told commissioners, as he reminded them that a moratorium essentially is "a temporary halt" so that the town has time to tailor a regulation.
The current moratorium will expire Oct. 24, 2015.
As he broke down the possible choices, Bloom said the commission could work on crafting a regulation to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in certain areas of the town. A number of municipalities, the attorney said, have chosen such approach to make sure potential businesses are not near a school.
"Or you could consider a regulation that disallows it entirely in New Canaan," Bloom said.
That option is not as common across the state, he noted, perhaps because "it's not clear" whether the local government can effectively forbid marijuana businesses in their towns. Although there are municipalities that have done so, Bloom did not recommend such approach. "One risk is that someone will challenge it and it will not be upheld," he said.
Commissioner Dick Ward said the ban could actually push a potential business away.
"Perhaps that would discourage someone from coming into the town if the town has a prohibition," he said. "Why get involved in a legal challenge (instead of going) to the next town where perhaps it's welcome?"
Bloom's recommendation, and what most state communities have done, is to do nothing but monitor the situation. "The theory is that if it comes to our town, we'll deal with it one way or the other," he said.
Chairman Laszlo Papp asked the commission to be mindful that corporate pharmacies may one day decide to enter the medical marijuana market. Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy both have stores in New Canaan. If that happens, Papp said, he would not recommend a complete ban to avoid an expensive legal battle with such companies.
"I'm not enthusiastic about marijuana consumption, but at the same time, if this is the way the future goes, well, then let's go into a more reasonable regulation instead of a strict prohibition," he said in an interview this week.
In Connecticut, only patients with a debilitating medical condition and a doctor's prescription are allowed to purchase medical marijuana, and only doctors who have been certified by the state may prescribe it. All facilities, their owners and pharmacy technicians must be registered with the state.
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