On Wednesday night the Planning & Zoning commission discussed a text amendment to prohibit retail marijuana businesses.
Connecticut recently approved a law allowing recreational marijuana, and gave municipalities the ability to make their own decision about whether to allow retail cannabis establishments.
The commission said the prohibition did not reflect a value judgement in terms of noise, smell or traffic, but rather a legal nuance.
Today, cannabis over 0.3% THC is illegal under federal law, but more than half the states have approved recreational marijuana.
The P&Z commission decided to add the amendment to prohibit retail sales. They used the same federal vs state rationale when they prohibited medical marijuana dispensaries several years ago.
“Hopefully the federal law catches up,” said Katie DeLuca, P&Z director on Thursday. “It is a little bit silly to have this conflict.”
DeLuca said the process to permit a marijuana retailer will be time consuming.
“The earliest one would be able to have a recreational (cannabis) establishment, even if we had approved it, wouldn’t be until well into 2022. It’s not like a store could open tomorrow.”
During the public hearing there were some interesting opinions from the public, both in favor and against the prohibition.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban said there were additional consideration beyond the conflict between federal and state law.
“The Dept of Consumer Protection still hasn’t issued guidelines on how the facilities are supposed to work,” she said. “And we know nearby Connecticut towns, except for Stamford, are leaning toward a ban. We were uncomfortable with not knowing the roles from the Dept of Consumer Protection…and us becoming a destination.”
“Once DCP has issued its guidelines and we see how it plays out in Connecticut, we would revisit it.”
“We’re stating the federal case because town counsel has opined in that direction – they remain uncomfortable with federal law vs state statute,” Alban said.
Today ,19 states have legalized recreational marijuana.
Andrew Fischer, a building inspector who lives in Greenwich, said eventually the federal government will “backpedal,” and marijuana will become de facto legal.
“When you start doing it town by town it becomes a little ridiculous and unfortunate,” Mr. Fischer said.
“The stores wouldn’t be legal until the end of 2022,” Alban said. “We have time to see this play out without letting the horse out of the barn. What we’d like to do is buy some time.”
Fischer noted that federal banking regulations make doing business in this industry very difficult, and it has become an all-cash business as a result.
“When Canada legalized it last year, some of the US retailers are using Canada’s banks so they can run their business like a normal business and have a payroll and have a commercial banking account and not have a cash business – as a cash business they have to have armored cars come every day to deliver and remove the cash, and pay their employees in cash, and customer shave to pay in cash. Nobody wants that.”
Alban agreed. “You can’t use credit cards. You can’t use the banking system.”
Fischer said the US banking industry had pleaded with the federal bank regulators to give them some leeway.
In other public testimony, Mary Flynn suggested the town include a referendum on the November ballot.
Alban said the way state law was written, it is a zoning decision, but that if 10% of the town voters wish to have the issue taken up as a referendum, that was possible.
“The zoning commission can be overruled if 10% of the town electorate wishes to have a referendum – and that’s is per state statute.”
Emily Sabo, the Organizing Director for United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 919, said the FCW was the official union for cannabis workers.
“A no vote for recreational cannabis sales and cultivation is also a note vote for working class people and good paying jobs. Jobs with a living wage, vacation and sick time, good health care and retirement accounts,” Sabo said. “These jobs create careers that require higher education and degrees in chemistry, botany, horticulture and so much more.”
Sabo said Connecticut has some of the strongest labor laws in the country pertaining to cannabis.
“We saw how cannabis worked in other states and we learned from them,” she said. “I ask Greenwich to consider their own local ordinance rather than a ban – one that you have the power to create….You can decide how many dispensaries or cultivation sites are built in Greenwich and where they go. You can set up a merit based system to help vet the potential operators. Town ordinances have been implemented in other states, including New Jersey.”
“Together we can create and shape the new industry and make sure it fits Greenwich and its working people,” she added.
Ms Alban asked Ms Sabo to stay in touch with Planning and Zoning going forward.
“We expect to revisit this once there is more clarity,” she said. “It would be very good to have your input from a worker point of view as we consider what we want to do in the future.”
“There was a lot of conversation at the state level about how to enable minority ownership, how to make this an opportunity for employment, and allow for diversity. The state law is actually written that way,” Alban said.
Greenwich Police Chief Jim Heavey said that although the law had passed, there was a lack of clarity how to enforce or regulate it.
“There are 63 pages in the law…There are still a lot of questions. I think it’s advisable to see what happens,” Heavey said.
“As the chief of police and as a parent who had children grow up in town, I have reservations that we’re legalizing marijuana,” he continued, adding that other than advantages of medical marijuana, there were also disadvantages.
Heavey said the police give a flyer to anyone who they find with marijuana.
“It’s how we give them the verbal warning and contact their parents,” he said. “I still get very concerned about that exposure to our youth. Youth is anyone under 25 whose brain is still developing and whose brain can have adverse effects.”
Heavey warned that if Greenwich allowed dispensaries, the town might have to provide a location for people to consume marijuana out in public.
“Talk about the effects of second hand smoke,” he said.