Panel recommends tighter cap on cannabis dispensaries in Meriden

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MERIDEN — The City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee voted this week to recommend that the city limit the number of adult recreational cannabis dispensaries to three, instead of six.

After about two hours of discussion, the panel agreed that despite the economic opportunity prohibitions against marijuana sales in Southington and Wallingford might create, the city would be served by having only three recreational or hybrid dispensaries within its borders. A hybrid dispensary is licensed to sell marijuana for both recreational and medical uses.

The city is eligible under state law to have three retail dispensaries and three hybrid facilities, as well as three mini-cultivation operations, for a total of nine cannabis operations within its borders.

The panel agreed with the city’s Planning Commission to allow the dispensaries to operate in most of its commercial zones. But after agreeing to restrict the number to three dispensary operations it broke with the Planning Commission’s recommendation to allow 1,500 feet distance between operations and restored it to 2,500 feet.  

Micro-cultivators are grow operations in less than 10,000 square feet that can provide delivery service or contract with delivery services. Rules regulating those operations were not addressed this week, and large-scale cannabis growers are already allowed in the city’s manufacturing zones.

Differing opinions

Not everyone on the panel embraced cannabis sales in the city and there were concerns about the city’s image, and even a recommendation that Meriden follow in Wallingford and Southington’s footsteps.

“Meriden doesn’t need cannabis,” said Councilor Bruce Fontanella. “I would also note that the surrounding municipalities, that we often try to mirror, have decided not to have retail establishments and that also figures into my thinking.”

Fontanella later proposed capping the number of dispensaries in the city at three. 

However, most of the committee members countered that prohibitions in other towns present an opportunity the city can’t ignore. In addition to real estate and personal property taxes, the city will collect 3% sales tax on cannabis. 

Committee Chairman Michael Rohde said the image of cannabis has changed and the industry is more tightly regulated than tobacco. The state also
allows 24 liquor store permits in the city with no restrictions on being near schools and playgrounds. The cannabis regulations mandate that all dispensaries be 500 feet from a school or playground. 

“I have already heard from multiple Meriden residents who have expressed interest in opening a retail establishment,” said Councilor Chad Cordillo. “It will bring people in from the towns that are not allowing this.” 

Regional demand

Meriden residents wishing to enter the business are granted social equity status by state regulators. This allows them to be first in line for a license and they can bring their license to any municipality. Meriden is among 35 municipalities, including Wallingford, selected for social equity status based on drug conviction and unemployment numbers. If in a partnership, the applicant must hold a 60 percent share.

Panel members expect significant demand when dispensaries open in 2022. Cordillo suggested requiring cannabis dispensaries be located outside the city’s downtown where parking might be a problem. But according to City Planner Paul Dickson, there is ample parking not being utilized in the city’s municipal lots downtown. 

City Councilor Daniel Brunet said that while he wanted to see Meriden become a destination for more than marijuana, the demand is expected to be regional and significant, especially in the early days. 

The committee’s recommendation goes before the full council when it meets next month.

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