By Eric O’Connell/Zip06.com • 10/12/2021 01:29 p.m. EST
The Old Saybrook Zoning Commission (ZC) unanimously passed a moratorium on marijuana regulations at a meeting held Oct. 4. The moratorium gives the commission more time to study the issue before it must decide if marijuana retail would be allowed in town.
Earlier this year, Connecticut legislators passed a bill that legalized recreational marijuana use by adults in the state. Now, it’s up to local municipalities to interpret what regulations will be enacted to control its sale in each town.
In Old Saybrook, the ZC has opted to take a moratorium route. Town Planner and Zoning Enforcement Officer Chris Costa explained to the Harbor News last month that having a moratorium in place would prevent any applicants from applying to change the zoning or apply to open a retail cannabis store while the commission takes time to further study the issue.
The moratorium has an end date of May 2022. Costa said the commission could take action before the moratorium ends if it so chooses.
Part of the impetus for the moratorium is so the commission can get more details from the Department of Consumer Protection on issues surrounding cannabis sales.
“It buys us more time to get further clarification,” said ZC Chair Robert Friedmann during the meeting.
During the meeting three members of the public spoke. All three were in favor of the moratorium, but not all three were in favor of the commission eventually allowing recreational marijuana retail in town.
Linda Barlow told the commission that while she had indulged in cannabis use when she was younger, she didn’t like the “loss of control I felt.” Barlow also admitted to driving while under the influence of marijuana and spoke of how dangerous that is. Barlow said she is afraid if cannabis sales are allowed in Old Saybrook more people may drive under the influence.
Currently, there is no standardized test for marijuana intoxication like there is for alcohol.
“I have heard of people say that the effects of smoking marijuana are not dramatically different than consuming alcohol—well, I do know that one can drink alcohol in moderate amounts, but I never heard of anyone getting half stoned,” Barlow said.
Barlow said that the opening of a marijuana retail store may also bring “outsiders” who could bring crime and further drain public safety resources.
Barlow also said that while marijuana retail may bring more people to town, in her opinion it could also lead to increase in crime and youth and family services work as the town works to combat negative effects.
“What good is an increase in revenue if we have to spend more on public safety?” Barlow asked.
Resident Suzanne Watson echoed some of Barlow’s points and said she was also against the legalization of marijuana in town.
Mark Hand said that he was in favor of the moratorium so the ZC could work out the kinks of the regulations and said he agrees that if a retail store were to open it should go somewhere where it makes sense and not be allowed to open by a school for example.
Hand said he came to the meeting because he wanted to correct what he said was unfair demonization of marijuana and marijuana users.
Hand said that people view marijuana has an “evil,” but in his view, that shouldn’t be the case.
“They look at alcohol as different. However, I’ve seen death and destruction caused by alcohol over and over again,” said Hand.
Hand also pushed back on claims that marijuana would cause more crime or lead to more criminals in town. Hand asserted that people would be less likely to get exposed to hard drugs from a regulated dispensary than if forced to use the black market and drug dealers.
“I think that’s a misconception people have. I know many, many people who use marijuana who are successful,” said Hand.
Hand said he visited a dispensary in Massachusetts and was struck by how clean and secure the building was.
Hand brought up the fact that despite the harm they cause when compared with marijuana, people can walk down the street in Old Saybrook and find bars, liquor stores, and cigar shops.
“Why should Old Saybrook [residents be] deprived of their legal right?” said Hand.
Friedmann said that the town’s Economic Development Commission had sent a correspondence to the ZC advising it to pass the moratorium so that further deliberation can be taken. While Friedmann noted that the recommendation wasn’t necessarily in favor of allowing retail marijuana sales in Old Saybrook, the memo also wasn’t against it either.
When the ZC does eventually take up the issue again, the town will have three options. It can outright prohibit retail sales in town, or it can approve it with certain stipulations, or it can allow it with no stipulations.
Under the bill passed by the legislature, there can only be one marijuana retail location per 25,000 people. This means only one store would be able to open in Old Saybrook.
If allowed in town, Old Saybrook would receive a three percent tax from all sales; those funds must be used for a specific set of projects.