WALLINGFORD — Despite being one of 35 Connecticut cities and towns granted social equity status for cannabis licenses, local officials are moving to prohibit any cannabis operation in town.
In a July 19 letter addressed to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Mayor William Dickinson Jr. and Health Director Stephen Civitelli called for a text amendment that prohibits cultivation, micro-cultivation and dispensaries in all zones.
Dickinson and Civitelli cited federal laws prohibiting marijuana use and public health and safety concerns.
“It is not enough that it is prohibited by federal law,” the letter stated. “Health concerns about and objections to marijuana use are now public record preceding the legislature’s enactment of the marijuana legalization public act.”
The letter says that eight state and federal public health agencies have called for “marijuana to be the focus and subject of comprehensive testing to assure that ingestion of marijuana is safe and not injurious to public health.” Agencies cited include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association.
“Upon the completion of appropriate testing which determines the public health safety of marijuana, we can revisit this matter,” the letter states.
On Thursday, the state’s newly established Social Equity Council approved a list of communities that will be prioritized for marijuana sales licenses and special equity programs. The list included Meriden and Wallingford.
One of the new law’s main goals is to help communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs by giving those residents equitable access to a marketplace that could generate tens of millions in annual revenue. Communities with high drug convictions and unemployment rates were named to the list.
In nearby Meriden, the city has imposed a three month-moratorium on any cannabis related applications until it drafts zoning laws regulating dispensaries and micro cultivators. Being named to the social equity list means the city will wait to see how many licenses are allowed in its borders.
“We were told one per 25,000 people, or three per category” said Meriden Economic Development Director Joseph Feest.
Wallingford Business Recruitment Specialist Timothy Ryan has been in discussion with police and health officials over cannabis operations since medical marijuana was legalized several years ago, he said. Ryan agreed with Dickinson that federal law underscores the need for a prohibition, despite the potential revenue gains from local operations. Ryan was satisfied with the proposed zoning text amendment, he said, so he knows what to tell interested operators “so they don’t waste their time.”
“I don’t have a problem with that,” Ryan said about the prohibition.
The public law that allows municipalities to enact prohibitions or moratoriums on cannabis operations also provides for public petitions against such restrictions. In Southington, where town leaders expressed support for a prohibition, members of the public are petitioning for a public vote allowing cannabis sales.
Dickinson emphasized marijuana has not been proven safe. He points to the lack of testing of opioids that led to widespread addiction and overdoses, and vaping, which wasn’t tested but is now problematic.
“It’s primarily a health issue,” Dickinson said. “I know the police department has been having a problem with the criminal side of marijuana, but the primary issue is public health. I’d like to hear how this is not a public health issue. There is medical evidence of potential harm. The AMA and others… have warned us. How we’re ignoring all of them is beyond me. I’d like to hear how this is not a public health issue.”
The prohibition also has the support of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford and other town substance abuse prevention and youth advocates.
Town Planner Kevin Pagini drafted a proposed text amendment to the town’s zoning regulations to be addressed at the Planning and Zoning Committee’s September meeting.
If adopted, the measure does not need approval by the Town Council.