OPINION: Connecticut’s reefer worries hound dispensaries, legalization

OPINION: Connecticut’s reefer worries hound dispensaries, legalization

The situation with medical marijuana dispensaries is beginning to look like that of term limits for politicians, as in term limits are great for the other guy’s candidate — a dispensary is great for the other guy’s neighborhood.

Unease about medical pot shops has been evident in Southington, where opponents have put pressure on town officials to keep marijuana away. This puts a unique type of pressure on planning and zoning panels tasked with ruling on applications. The decisions one way or the other need to be based on regulations, not on how someone gauges the threat of marijuana.

“We’ve gotten lots of emails, we’ve gotten lots of communication from these (anti-drug) organizations,” Michael Del Santo, the chairman of Southington’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said recently. “We get it, drugs are bad. In this position we have a job to do … We have to follow our regulations.”

The situation is hardly unique to Southington. The New York Times recently reported on similar resistance in other states at the local level, where “would-be dispensary operators routinely encounter layers of regulations, if not moratoriums or outright bans, as well as wary landlords and angry neighbors.”

“We are trying to educate local communities that this pot is not the devil coming,” Robert N. Fireman, president and CEO of MariMed Advisors, told the Times. “All we really are is a glorified CVS that’s highly regulated and secure. But it’s not getting any easier on the real estate side.”

As the Times noted, the resistance runs counter to indications that Americans in general are warming to marijuana, with half of the states approving it for medical purposes and nine, plus Washington, D.C., legalizing it for recreational use. A survey in October showed that 61 percent of Americans feel pot should be legalized.

But even in states where marijuana has been legalized progress in taking it from idea to practice has been slow and far from trouble free. The Associated Press reports that while pot retail sales became legal in Massachusetts on July 1 (after a referendum vote approved legalizing recreational marijuana in November 2016) no stores have been licensed and few are expected to be anytime soon. “Local resistance and the lack of marijuana testing facilities required by law are factors cited for the delay,” says the AP.

Also since Sunday you can legally possess a small amount of marijuana in Vermont, but since there are no pot stores you either have to grow it yourself or continue, as the AP put it, “buying from illicit dealers.”

California legalized cannabis for recreational use effective at the beginning of this year. In the months since, fears that that black market, which obviously has been around a lot longer, would undercut legalized sales have turned out to be true, providing, as the AP put it “a buzzkill for those trying to play by the rules.”

Not too long ago I found it encouraging that President Donald Trump was supporting, at least in talk, the idea of legalizing marijuana on the federal level. It would alleviate a major inconsistency, which I thought would be good since there’s such general support among Americans and because states have the right to figure out things on their own.

But for the time being, the current situation allows towns that choose to embrace the inconsistency a way out, which is what is happening in Wallingford. While other towns deal with medical dispensary applications, Wallingford has decided to just say no. “The town’s position is that we can’t permit something that’s not legal at the federal level,” said Town Planner Kacie Hand.

What to make of it all? Well, for one, Connecticut is better off sitting on the sidelines when it comes to legalizing recreational use. It already has its hand full with medical dispensaries.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.



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