Stamford Zoning Board approves medical marijuana dispensary
Updated 3:16 pm, Tuesday, March 13, 2018
STAMFORD — When Eileen Russo approached the Zoning Board earlier this week she said it was hard to conceal her emotions.
Her voice cracked as she described the long drive — 45 minutes each way to Bethel — she takes each month to get life-saving medicine. Another man, with debilitating lower back pain, told the board that a similar drive causes him immense pain. Others - in wheelchairs, for example - have it even worse, he said.
“Medical marijuana saved my life,” Russo told the panel. “My doctors can’t figure out why I’m alive today.”
Russo, who beat clear-cell ovarian cancer, was one of several medical-marijuana users who spoke at a public hearing on a proposed dispensary, Kind Care LLC, at 806 East Main Street. After lengthy public comment and an hour-long presentation, the board unanimously approved the dispensary to open in a storefront in the now-empty shopping center.
The closest dispensaries to Stamford are in Bethel and Milford.
While that doesn’t mean medical marijuana is coming to Stamford any time soon, it does put the city in the running for one of three new dispensaries the state plans on allowing.
In January, the state Department of Consumer Protection said it was seeking applications to open at least three more medical marijuana dispensaries in Connecticut. To apply with the state, potential dispensers must have local zoning approval, which Kind Care owner Paul Shortt now has.
He has until April 9 to apply to with the state, which makes the final decision.
During public comment more than a dozen people spoke, with most of them in favor of the proposal. Some four would-be neighbors of the proposed dispensary spoke against the plan, citing concerns that it would send the wrong message to children, invite potential thieves and bring more traffic to an already clogged intersection.
Susan Buchsbaum, who lives in a condo nearby, said traffic is already bad on the corner of East Main and Lafayette streets. That the dispensary will only accept cash, other neighbors said, might also prompt muggings or break-ins in the area.
Shortt, who expects roughly 21 to 25 patients a day, said there have been no calls to police about “any illegal activity” at any of the nine dispensaries in the state.
Zoning Board members said there would be additional traffic no matter what goes in the storefronts on that corner.
“We need this in Stamford,” said board member David Stein. “It’s clear that this has widespread support ... I didn’t hear anything negative for it except for the traffic.
City Rep. Jonathan Jacobson (D-12), who serves the East Side neighborhood, said he “strongly supports the proposal,” and called the travel to Bethel for medical marijuana an “unnecessary burden” on residents.
Shortt and his attorney Mario Musilli argued that dispensaries are so regulated — including weekly state inspections and a vault for cash and marijuana — that problems such as muggings, break-ins or non-medical use are unlikely.
Just to enter the dispensary lobby, a potential customer must have a state-issued medical marijuana ID and be on a state-approved customer list for that specific location, he said.
Lora Rae Anderson, spokesperson for the consumer-protection department, said in an email that the locations of other applicants will be released when the licenses are awarded.
The timeline, she added, depends on how many applications the department gets. The last time the state requested applications in September 2015, it got 17 applications and awarded licenses in January.
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