Anyone pushing for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Connecticut would do well to look at what’s been going on in Southington recently.
Praveen Dhulipalla, who owns pharmacies across the state, has been looking to set up a medical marijuana dispensary at 995 Queen St. The state is looking to add at least three more medical marijuana dispensaries to the current nine. There are two in Milford, and one each in Bristol, Hartford, Branford, Waterbury, Bethel, South Windsor and Uncasville. Since the three licenses were awarded in 2016, the number of patients who can access medical marijuana has climbed, from just more than 8,000 to 22,000.
There are hoops to jump through when it comes to establishing a dispensary, and those include local zoning approval. It’s at the zoning level that the pushback has been taking place in Southington. It shows that there are those not comfortable with these establishments, even when they’re for medical use.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson recently wrote persuasively about the difference medical marijuana has made when it comes to managing her chronic pain. “Gaining access to legal medical marijuana has changed my life,” she wrote.
Richardson also takes Oxycodone, and says medical marijuana has helped her cut down on opioid use. “Why do I use these two controversial drugs instead of something else? Because literally nothing else works,” she wrote.
So there’s a distinction, and it’s clear that there are many for whom the medical use of marijuana is a benefit. But that distinction is not enough for those who would rather not have a dispensary in their back yard.
The primary worry appears to be the message it sends to young people. It’s not a vapid argument
“Calling marijuana a medicine, it lends to thinking it’s safe,” said Christina Simms. Simms, Youth Services director and an advisory board member for the Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success, was talking to Southington’s Planning and Zoning Commission. “It takes the perception of risk for youth down significantly,” she said.
Chris Palmieri, town council chairman, STEPS president and an assistant principal at DePaolo Middle School, said a medical pot dispensary is “a step backwards” when it comes to prevention efforts.
You can quibble with these contentions. Since there are already nine dispensaries in the state the message to young people that marijuana is useful in medical circumstances has already been sent. Plus, there are now many states that have legalized pot for recreational use — something not likely to be lost on the young.
But the concern illustrates a legitimate unease.
At a recent press event in Hartford, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, who has studied marijuana for two decades, listed three concerns about the legalization of recreational pot use: it’s addictive, has a negative impact on the developing brain, and, like alcohol, doesn’t mix well with driving.
“We must take all of this information into account before we make a decision,” said Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, as reported by the New Haven Independent. “We must look at the science and look at the financial costs before we make any decision about legalization.”
I suppose some congratulations are in order to Connecticut lawmakers for not jumping at the revenue stream legalized pot might bring to their deficit-riddled state. Would it be just another deal with the devil, like gambling?
For elucidation we can look just a few miles to the north. Legalized recreational use in Massachusetts passed by a referendum vote, leaving lawmakers there with the unenviable task of figuring out how to implement it.
That means tough decisions, including one that would make Massachusetts the first state in the nation where grown-ups can gather at “cannabis cafes.” Those are places, like bars, where you can gather with your friends and buy pot and … well, you know. Imagine a place like that going up in Southington?
While the legal use of marijuana by adults is set to start July 1, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has put off making a decision about social consumption, as in “cannabis cafes.” It also has delayed a decision on whether to allow for home delivery.
Supporters of legalizing pot in Connecticut need to make a more persuasive, detailed argument. The situation in Southington shows there’s still a long way to go.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.