MERIDEN — The Board of Education has made clear — its members are opposed to the potential approval of a recreational cannabis store near a district-run program that serves young adults with special education needs.
Meanwhile, the applicant behind the proposal maintained that such opposition is based on what he described as a “backwards stigma” against adult cannabis users.
Biagio N. Gulino, the proprietor of Blue Leaf LLC/BGE LLC, is seeking the Planning Commission’s approval of a special permit to open the proposed dispensary at 28 W. Main St.
Board of Education President Robert Kosienski Jr., in a letter addressed to the Planning Commission, explained the Community Classroom Collaborative serves 30 students between 18 and 22 years old.
The program is staffed by two teachers, three job coaches and a paraprofessional.
“The program is designed to support students with everyday living and social and employment skills,” Kosienski wrote.
“...All of the children in the program are receiving special education services. While they may have completed credits toward graduation, they remain Meriden Public Schools’ students until they exit the program,” Kosienski continued.
“We believe any special permit application discussion should not lose sight of the students who benefit from the CCC Program. This proposed change is a bad idea so close to one of our programs. Our students deserve that this special permit application be denied. Thank you for putting our students first.”
Gulino said he is disappointed by the board’s opposition, which he said is based on an “antiquated stigma” of cannabis users.
“I stand by what we have proposed so far,” Gulino said.
“I just think it’s something that the downtown area needs.”
Gulino described downtown Meriden as the city’s “premiere economic development area.”
He said the whole reason for proposing the business in a downtown area is to bring more foot traffic. He noted the business would also be located near Police Department headquarters at 50 W. Main St.
“We want these things next to the police station,” Gulino said, adding that the site was chosen specifically because “we want people to feel safe there. We want them to be informed.” He said the owners of several existing downtown businesses have expressed support for the proposal.
The board discussed its letter in executive session during an in-person meeting at Edison Middle School on Sept 21. The item was listed on that meeting’s agenda as an item proposed for executive session as “discussion of whether to intervene in a pending zoning matter.”
Kosienski said no board members objected to the letter, which he said was approved by “unanimous consent.” The board did not hold a vote on it.
Acting Planning Director Paul Dickson stated in an email that a public hearing on the proposal will be continued at the commission’s next meeting on Oct. 13.
“At the meeting, the applicant may address any concerns,” Dickson wrote.
During previous discussions on the proposal, Gulino’s attorney Dennis Ceneviva said there would be no outside signage promoting cannabis products.
The cannabis products cannot be consumed on the premises and are intended to be purchased and consumed at home by potential customers.
The business would also have stringent security measures in place.
Ceneviva said he would have liked the board to explain its rationale behind why its members are opposed to his client’s proposal.
“It would have been nice if they had issued something more than a conclusionary statement,” Ceneviva said.
Ceneviva said it is still very early in the process. Even if the Planning Commission grants local approval, the proposal would need state approval.
“It really is the first step of a long process,” Ceneviva said.
This story was updated to clarify that the Board of Education approved the submission of its letter by unanimous consent. The board did not formally vote on the letter.