Southington leaders consider prohibiting recreational cannabis

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SOUTHINGTON — Town leaders opposed to recreational marijuana are considering their options for a local prohibition after passage of a state law allowing cannabis use.

Leaders of both parties expressed frustration at the state law passed earlier this month, saying they felt it undermined local substance abuse prevention efforts.

Last week, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law a bill that allows for the possession of certain amounts of marijuana, creates local and state taxes for its sale and allows for its commercial cultivation. The move follows similar law changes in surrounding states such as Massachusetts.

Marijuana will remain illegal to purchase by those under 21.

Victoria Triano, a Republican and Town Council chairwoman, called the bill “terrible.” She said legal marijuana would inevitably find its way to the town’s youth.

“Our kids get alcohol whenever they want and they’ll be able to get pot whenever they want,” she said.

Triano said she saw no other reason than tax revenue to legalize the drug. Towns and cities stand to gain a three percent sales tax from local purchases.

“Keep your three percent. We want to be able to have a community where there aren’t people using marijuana for leisure,” Triano said. “Let us govern the way we need to govern.”

Chris Poulos, a Democratic council member, said he’s been watching with concern the advance of marijuana legalization. During Monday’s council meeting, he asked if town leaders could prohibit marijuana sales in Southington.

“I don’t want dispensaries in this town,” Poulos said.

Triano directed the town attorney to study what options Southington had for preventing dispensaries from opening.

Waterbury moratorium

Waterbury’s planners are considering a moratorium on recreational marijuana dispensaries, giving city leaders time to consider the issue. State law allows the sale of recreational cannabis starting next year.

Waterbury has one medicinal marijuana dispensary.

Roberty Nerney, the city planner, said Waterbury or any other municipality can choose to take no action in response to the new law. That would mean recreational marijuana is treated as other similar retail products. Municipalities can prohibit recreational cannabis, Nerney said, or enact its own zoning regulations governing where such dispensaries can locate.

There’s precedent for leaving such decisions up to towns and cities, Nerney said.

“That was the Colorado model,” he said, referring to that state’s allowance of recreational marijuana more than a decade ago. Like Connecticut, Colorado has a strong home rule tradition.

Prospect prohibition

Earlier this month the Prospect Planning and Zoning Commission amended its regulations to prohibit any recreational marijuana establishments.

Southington leaders cited the Prospect and Waterbury actions when they discussed their options Monday night.

Triano said she was frustrated that decisions made in Hartford were being thrust upon Southington. She’s hoping to have a measure for the council’s consideration as soon as next month.

“We have to figure out a way to protect our community,” Triano said.

Triano is a founding member of STEPS, the town’s substance abuse prevention group. Chris Palmieri, the council’s Democratic minority leader, is a former STEPS president.

State delegation split 

All but one of Southington’s state representatives and senators are Republicans and voted against the marijuana bill. Liz Linehan, a Democratic representative whose district includes Southington, voted in support.

The recent bill had the most protections in it for children regarding marketing and edibles. The law attempts to take control of the marijuana market, Linehan said.

“The most important part of this legislation was the regulation of marijuana,” she said.

With surrounding states legalizing recreational cannabis, Linehan said Connecticut shouldn’t be an island of prohibition.

The most immediate task for towns should be educating young people on the dangers of marijuana, Linehan said, rather than working to stop dispensaries that won’t be able to open until well into next year.

“If you’re going to put things in order of importance, start having greater conversations with kids about the dangers of drugs,” she said.

Linehan said the law does allow towns to prohibit retail cannabis sales.

Rob Sampson, a Republican senator, said he had many objections to the bill. Many of the law’s 300 pages are dedicated to social equity, outlining how half of the initial marijuana licenses must be distributed. He said there’s still conflict with federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. Sampson also said the bill still puts restrictions on the number of plants that can be grown in a person’s house.

“Is it legal or is it not legal?” he asked.

Sampson said zoning issues for dispensaries should be left up to towns and cities and that the bill did allow for prohibiting them.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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