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Eric Cotton

Excess of caution

Meriden officials see potential in a plan to create a production facility for medical marijuana on South Broad Street. A recent state law allows marijuana to be produced and distributed in Connecticut under strict guidelines. The state is likely to begin by issuing three to five licenses for production and cannot issue more than 10 under the law. A group of local investors working with a Colorado company are applying for one of those licenses in hopes of bringing a facility to a largely vacant former International Silver Co. building at 500 South Broad St, as the Record-Journal reported last week.

The facility would be 50,000 square feet, but could increase up to 300,000 square feet depending on demand, representatives of the group told city officials. The proposal could bring 40 to 60 jobs to Meriden, from entry level to highly skilled positions.

That would be great for the city, although whether it really happens may depend on the competition for licenses.

The city’s openness to the plan is refreshing for a few reasons. The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is no different than the therapeutic use of any other drug. The state has adopted a very reasonable law that puts appropriate controls in place. The drug can only be used with a prescription to treat certain illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. If marijuana can help people afflicted with those conditions, why not give them access to it? If you’re going to do that, then you need production facilities as you would for any other drug. Local officials, like most Connecticut residents and a majority in the state legislature, seem to get that.

But even if they did have concerns about the nature of the proposed operation, it would be inappropriate and potentially problematic for officials to prejudge the plan on that basis. The group has a right to operate a legal business and the facility is allowed under the zoning for that area.

In Southington, the Planning and Zoning Commission expressed concerns about the prospect of production facilities locating there and recently adopted specific regulations for medical marijuana. Since the town could not legally ban medical marijuana, officials put strict rules in place to control it, modeling the regulations on guidelines for adult-oriented businesses (as if the two uses had anything in common). Under the new rules, a medical marijuana production facility must be at least 750 feet away from “sensitive” areas, which are defined as libraries, schools, churches and parks, and no two facilities can be within 1,000 feet of one another, among other stipulations.

While the regulations strike me as an excess of caution, I would also question whether it’s wise for planning officials to single out specific uses that way, particularly when it appears the preference is for an outright ban, if only it were legally possible.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission seemed to depart recently from a strictly objective interpretation of town regulations after parents of Derynoski Elementary School students and the Board of Education objected to plans to build a soup kitchen and food pantry on a neighboring property, even though the plan complies with zoning. The two issues make me wonder if the town planner who quit his job in Southington after just six days because he said the PZC was too political might have been onto something.

Reach Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or ecotton@record-journal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3.



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