SOUTHINGTON — A local anti-drug group and some town leaders oppose a medical marijuana facility proposed for Queen Street.
Christina Simms, Youth Services director and an advisory board member for the Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success, said the group will attend a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on the plan Tuesday night.
“Our goal is to inform and educate the Planning and Zoning Commission on the negative implications a medical marijuana facility can have on our youth,” she said.
Every two years, STEPS conducts a survey on town youth and asks questions about risky behaviors. Simms said the perception of risk involving marijuana usage among youth has decreased since 2012 when the legislature decriminalized marijuana.
“Calling marijuana a medicine, it lends to thinking it’s safe,” she said. “It takes the perception of risk for youth down significantly.”
“Any access that kids could potentially have to marijuana us, we are working on preventing,” Simms said. “Our goal is to limit access to substances like marijuana.”
Praveen Dhulipalla is requesting a special permit for a dispensary at 995 Queen St. He owns pharmacies across the state, including locations in Hartford, Avon, Southbury and Waterbury.
Local zoning approval is required as part of the state licensing system for marijuana facilities
Chris Palmieri, STEPS president, Town Council chairman and assistant principal at DePaolo Middle School, said a medical marijuana facility feels like “a step backwards” in prevention efforts. He wasn’t opposed to people using marijuana for medical needs, but said its proliferation could make it easier for kids to get.
“We’ve worked so hard with prevention, specifically with youth getting their hands on it,” Palmieri said. “Access could become a little bit easier.”
STEPS leaders spoke against marijuana during Planning and Zoning Commission meetings in 2012 on changing town regulations to allow the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries.
There are nine dispensaries in Connecticut: two in Milford and one each in Bristol, Hartford, Branford, Waterbury, Bethel, South Windsor and Uncasville. The last three licenses were awarded in 2016, but the number of card-holding patients in the state has increased from just over 8,000 to about 22,000 since then.
The state Department of Consumer Protection is encouraging the opening of at least three more medical marijuana facilities and is accepting applications until April 9. There are a host of criteria for approval, including security measures, location, a review of financial records and business plan.