Commission approves medical marijuana facilities
Stratford could eventually have two medical marijuana dispensaries in town, based on a Zoning Commission vote at the Nov. 14 meeting allowing the facilities.
“It’s time,” said Commissioner Dave Fuller, who made the motion to approve the required change in the zoning regulations.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the so-called text amendment change, which means the wording of the regulations is being altered to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
The new policy specifically sets a limit of two dispensaries in Stratford and includes numerous other restrictions. For instance, dispensaries won’t be allowed in residential zoning districts.
The regulation change allows only facilities for dispensing medical marijuana. As of now, recreational marijuana is not legal in Connecticut.
The Zoning Commission’s action came after an extensive process of studying the issue, getting staff advice, receiving citizen input at a public hearing that was kept open over numerous meetings, and discussion among commissioners.
The town Planning Commission had favored allowing medical marijuana facilities in its recommendation to the Zoning Commission.
The new policy replaces a local moratorium that had been in effect for the past few years. Connecticut legalized the use of marijuana for individuals with certain medical conditions in 2012.
Connecticut currently has nine medical marijuana dispensaries, including two in neighboring Milford, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection website. The others are in Bethel, Branford, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor, Uncasville, and Waterbury.
The regulation change doesn’t mean a dispensary will necessarily open soon in Stratford. The process requires getting state approval as well as going through the local zoning application procedure. It’s uncertain how many medical marijuana dispensaries the state plans to allow.
Applicants will have to file what is called a special case application when seeking zoning approval in Stratford.
Many Connecticut towns and cities have passed moratoriums to temporarily prevent dispensaries from opening in their communities.
‘No stone unturned’
Fuller said he’s “proud” of how Stratford has approached the issue, with a long period of consideration and deliberation leading to this week’s vote.
“This is really how to craft public policy,” he said, noting that the process can take a while before a conclusion is reached. “No stone was left unturned,” Fuller said.
Chairman Stephanie Philips suggested limiting the number of dispensaries to two in Stratford. She said a future Zoning Commission “may feel they want to open up more.”
The makeup of the commission will soon change dramatically because of the Nov. 7 municipal election. Philips, a Democrat, will be the only returning full member. The other four members will be Republicans. The commission also has three alternates, who are appointed.
The five members voting on the matter were Fuller, Philips, Linda Pepin, Richard Fredette, and alternate Steven Raguskus. Fredette was recently sworn in as the commission’s newest member based on winning a special election.
According to the new regulation, medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed only in certain zoning districts. This includes retail commercial (CA, CF, CNC), light and general industrial (MA, MB), and one type of limited business (LBB) zone.
They are prohibited from all residential zoning districts as well as zones for heavy commercial, office parks, waterfront businesses, and heavy industrial.
When considering a dispensary application, the new policy states, the Zoning Commission should consider “the proximity of the premises to residential areas, religious institutions, schools, playgrounds, parks, public or private recreation areas, child daycare facilities or any place primarily frequented by minors.”
Dispensaries may not offer drive-through service or have outdoor seating areas. Exterior dispensary signs are limited in size and the text that can be included, and may not have graphics. Permitted hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The facilities may not be within 1,500 feet of each other, aren’t allowed in a structure that includes any part used for residential purposes, and are prohibited from being within 700 feet of an adjacent municipality.
Also, a dispensary must have adequate security to prevent theft or loss of marijuana, and must be in a permanent building and not a trailer or recreational vehicle.
As for who may patronize a medical marijuana dispensary, the state has a list of specific conditions that can qualify an adult or under-18 patient to receive the needed certificate, based on the recommendation of a Connecticut-licensed physician.
Some of these include a terminal illness requiring end-of-life care, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, irreversible spinal cord injury, epilepsy, and glaucoma.