SOUTHINGTON — The Town Council has requested that the Planning and Zoning Commission examine the issue of marijuana dispensaries in town.
"It's a motion for Planning and Zoning to consider the new state legislation and how it impacts Southington and whether they feel it's appropriate to take any action or not," Councilor Paul Chaplinsky said during a Monday night council meeting.
The motion passed by a 6 to 2 vote does not require the commission to add the item to its agenda nor does it indicate the council’s preference for whether marijuana dispensaries should be allowed. Councilors Tom Lombardi and Chris Palmieri opposed the council motion.
The motion came after town attorney Jeremy Taylor delivered a report on how state legislation legalizing marijuana allows the town to limit or prohibit dispensaries. Monday’s vote sets in motion an avenue for the Planning and Zoning Commission to modify the town’s zoning regulations to either prohibit dispensaries outright or limit how closely they can be placed to
facilities like schools. Should the PZC take action, it would be referred for final approval by the Town Council.
The other avenue the town could take is a referendum, which can be held if 10 percent of registered voters petition for one. According to town voting records, approximately 3,146 signatures would be required.
The results of the referendum would be binding and take priority over any PZC or Town Council action, Taylor said. Earlier this month, the local Democratic Town Committee released a statement in support of allowing voters to decide the issue at referendum. The DTC did not endorse a position on marijuana dispensaries, instead saying it should be left up to voters.
If the issue isn’t settled by a referendum or zoning modification, dispensaries would be permitted in Southington under restrictions businesses like liquor stores or medical marijuana facilities operate under.
Lombardi explained that his vote against asking the PZC to examine the issue was because he believes a referendum is inevitable.
"I'm very confident that that threshold (for a referendum) will be met and I'm even willing to go so far as to say I wish I had support on this body that we would just waive that ten percent and just say go to referendum,” Lombardi said. “I don't want to see the town clerk's office, I don't want to see the town attorney ... wasting resources and taxpayer money, it's going to get there one way or another." he said.
Resident Stacy Dolan told the council she intends to start a petition for a referendum on local marijuana sales.
"I am backing the fact that every single person in this town who's a registered voter should get a say,” Dolan said. “I don't believe it should be up to a handful of people to make such a large decision for our town and I know it could go the wrong way for me and sales could be prohibited, but I'm okay with that because at least the people get a say."
Resident Susan Zabohonski said she believes it’s “jumping the gun” to talk about a referendum before the effects of the state legislation are fully understood. She supported having the PZC and Town Council make the determination if local sales will be permitted.
"We have elected officials...the town people speak when they hold an election,”Zabohonski said. “...elections have consequences and the consequences are the people choose who they want to represent them, so I'm hoping that you guys will do that."
Noting the availability of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods, resident Bryan Joyce said the negative effects of marijuana are shadowed by the impacts of other substances readily available in town. He added that since the substance is legal, the town could be missing out on revenue by prohibiting dispensaries.
"Weed is here, it's not going anywhere, okay. In fact, it's right here," he said, removing a marijuana joint from behind his ear and holding it up before the council.