Over 40% of Connecticut cities ban cannabis sales – for now


Connecticut gave the green light to recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older last year, but more than 40% of cities and towns say no, at least for now.

The state’s recreational cannabis law, which went into effect last July, allows municipalities to make their own rules, including whether or not to prohibit the opening of marijuana establishments inside their boundaries. borders.

With retail sales expected to begin later this year, at least 75 of Connecticut‘s 169 municipalities have instituted bans or moratoriums. Many are small rural and suburban towns, but some towns have also announced that they are not interested in opening these businesses in their communities.

Interviews with local officials and an analysis of news articles and municipal records from the Hearst Connecticut Media Group revealed that at least 22 municipalities have established bans and 53 have imposed moratoriums.

Many local officials cited the need for more time to review state law, develop new regulations and seek public comment.

MAP: Which cities and towns in Connecticut have banned recreational cannabis?

Industry advocates say banning cannabis sales or businesses means cities will miss out on economic growth and tax revenue.

“It doesn’t change consumer habits other than consumers eventually moving to another jurisdiction,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

In other states that have adopted similar tactics, municipalities that initially banned businesses have finally opened up to them, Smith added.

It’s similar to the line of thinking in cities like East Hartford, where officials have created a detailed webpage to answer questions about zoning regulations for recreational cannabis businesses.

“I think the general feeling in the community as a whole was that it was legalized by the state of Connecticut,” said Eileen Buckheit, East Hartford’s director of development. “We thought it was inevitable that it would be in the state of Connecticut, and we would rather participate in it and take advantage of the sales tax.”

READ MORE: What you need to know about Connecticut’s recreational pot licensing process

Some cities and towns in Connecticut acted quickly, enacting bans — temporary or more permanent — soon after it became legal for people 21 and older to possess and use marijuana in the state.

Newtown banned all cannabis establishments the same day the law took effect, as officials there worried about unintended consequences. Other municipalities that acted early were Danbury and Ridgefield, which both imposed year-long moratoriums on cannabis businesses, and Greenwich, which banned the sale of recreational cannabis, citing a “conflict between the law of the ‘State and Federal Law’, which classifies marijuana as illegal.

“When the Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed zoning regulations regarding prohibition, the merits of recreational or medicinal marijuana were not considered,” said Planning and Zoning Director Katie DeLuca. of Greenwich, in an emailed statement. “The reason for this is that they discovered that there was a legal conflict between state law and federal law to the extent that state law permits such uses and federal law does not. No. In such cases, federal law prevails.

The city of Cheshire passed a moratorium last month on recreational cannabis businesses, but exempted cultivators and micro-growers following a request from a local businessman who told the Commission of planning and zoning that he planned to apply for a lottery license.

Fairfield County has a large concentration of towns with bans or moratoriums. Bridgeport and Stamford, the two largest towns in the county, do not have either. Norwalk, on the other hand, is likely to impose a nine-month moratorium. In addition to Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport and Weston all have bans.

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But some of those without a ban have instituted strict zoning rules around the location of businesses. In Bridgeport, for example, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission in December limited them to industrial areas where strip clubs and adult stores are located.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national group that opposes the commercialization of cannabis, promotes strict zoning in cities that allow cannabis, said Kevin Sabet, the group’s founder and cannabis critic.

“While we encourage cities to opt out of legal sales and production in states that have legalized, SAM is also advocating for strict zoning regulations in cities that decide to have retail stores,” Sabet wrote in a press release sent by e-mail.

Many cities along the Massachusetts border, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 and opened retail stores in late 2018, have mostly not issued any bans or addressed the issue. The border towns of Granby, Stafford and Woodstock all have moratoriums in place.

Other municipalities like Andover, Middletown and Norwich are rolling out the welcome mat.

Andover is “actively recruiting cannabis businesses in the city,” city administrator Eric Anderson said in an email.

The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission last August approved bylaws allowing the cultivation and sale of marijuana in certain areas of the city.

The Norwich Community Development Corporation, the city’s economic development arm, has a page on its website dedicated to the industry, which says “the cannabis industry, in all its forms, is welcome in the city of Norwich “.

A “determining factor” is that parts of Norwich have been identified as “disproportionately affected areas”, which receive preferential treatment for cannabis business licenses, said Kevin Brown, executive director of the NCDC.

Census tracts identified, including Norwich, were chosen based on unemployment rates and the percentage of residents who have been convicted of drug-related offenses – a way to target benefits to the hardest-hit places affected by the now discredited war on drugs launched by former President Richard Nixon. in 1971.

“If the state has recognized that Norwich should and has everything to gain from this, we should take advantage of this opportunity,” Brown said.

Restrictions in other communities “tell us here to leverage and seize this opportunity,” he added.

The law allows municipalities to impose a 3% of sales tax on cannabis businesses, which could have a huge impact in a city the size of Norwich, Brown said. He spoke to a potential cannabis retailer who gave him a “conservative estimate” of $20 million in sales per year.

“Three percent of $20 million is a big chunk of change for the city,” Brown said. Given that Norwich is permitted to have two retail facilities, this could generate over $1 million in local tax revenue.

“You can hire 20 cops with that money,” he said. “You can hire 20 youth and family services workers with that money.”

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