Cannabis sales moratorium ‘will buy us time,’ Norwalk official says – Thehour.com

NORWALK — A temporary ban on cannabis businesses in the city is one step closer to becoming a reality, with final Common Council approval set for Tuesday.

The Common Council’s Ordinance Committee unanimously approved this week a nine-month ban on cannabis businesses in Norwalk, allowing the committee to research and set boundaries on where cannabis businesses can be located and what advertising is permitted.

Final approval of the moratorium is set for Tuesday. If the Council approves the motion, the ban will go into effect 10 days following the approval, Assistant Corporation Council Brian Candela said.

The ban was first proposed by the committee during January’s meeting, as a means of ensuring the city had some control over where and how the businesses were integrated into the community, officials said.

“The moratorium will buy us time to learn about a lot of this and figure out what we, as a municipality, can do,” council member Josh Goldstein said. “I think this moratorium is a prudent and smart move right now.”

City leaders are not against cannabis businesses in Norwalk, but want to regulate how they are advertised and where they can set up shop.

“We’ve all committed to a robust public hearing on where these things should go and reaching out to a lot of different aspects of our community to get a lot of feedback on every aspect of this type of licensing,” Ordinance Committee Chair Lisa Shanahan said.

Among the regulations the committee is considering is ensuring marijuana establishments are not located near schools, churches or addiction rehabilitation centers, Shanahan previously said.

As part of the approval process, the committee held a public hearing on the ban this week, with about 10 residents speaking during the meeting or submitting a statement. All Norwalk residents who participated in the public hearing spoke in favor of the moratorium.

Norwalk resident and founder of the Courage to Speak Foundation Ginger Katz shared her own story of loss to substance abuse during the meeting and spoke in support of the moratorium. The Courage to Speak Foundation educates communities on how to prevent substance abuse.

“The delay will allow the city to conduct more research to put effective protocols in place concerning where and how cannabis will be sold in Norwalk,” Katz said. “Most importantly, it is critical we allow our community leaders more time to plan for the ramifications of introducing easy access to cannabis in our community, which research shows will provide easier access to cannabis to our youth.”

Katz’s son, Ian Eaccarino, died of a heroin and Valium overdose in 1996 at the age of 20. Katz said marijuana acted as a gateway drug that led to his heroin addiction.

“My own son, a Norwalk High School graduate, started using marijuana at 13,” Katz said. “Junior year of college, he called up begging for help, crying, addicted to heroin. When I found him, my cries for help were heard two blocks away. I believe marijuana was the drug that led my son to the drugs that killed him. I am certain once cannabis sales begin, we will increase the number of youth addicted.”

Among the concerns expressed by the public was the potential for Norwalk to become a drug hot-spot as neighboring municipalities permanently ban cannabis establishments.

Mental health and substance abuse counselor Denise Rollinson shared these concerns with the committee, emphasizing Norwalk’s accessibility from the highway.

“Norwalk is easily accessible by neighboring towns that have already banned or postponed cannabis sales,” Rollinson said. “It is likely Norwalk will become a cannabis market not just for Norwalk residents, but also for neighboring towns. It is possible we could be overwhelmed with traffic density and an influx of DUIs, which could put our community health and safety at risk.”

Rollinson also said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, “meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” according to the DEA.

In Norwalk’s area, Darien, New Canaan, Weston and Westport all have banned cannabis businesses. More than 40 percent of Connecticut municipalities have placed either a permanent ban or a moratorium on cannabis businesses.

A Heast Connecticut Media analysis found at least 22 municipalities established bans and 53 imposed moratoriums.

abigail.brone@hearstmediact.com

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