Preston — The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on cannabis establishments to allow time to review the new state law legalizing cannabis growing and retail sales and adjust local zoning regulations.
Few residents spoke or submitted written comments on the proposed moratorium during a public hearing prior to the vote Tuesday night. The moratorium will run from Sept. 20, 2021, through March 20, 2022.
The state law passed in spring allows towns with up to 25,000 residents, including Preston, to have one retail cannabis establishment and one “micro-cultivator,” defined as a licensed grower with between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet of growing space. These restrictions are in place through June 30, 2024, when the state might consider increasing them.
Municipal zoning boards have the authority to regulate the location, sales and use of cannabis within the state restrictions, and towns can regulate areas where smoking of cannabis products is allowed or prohibited.
Commission member Michael Sinko said the moratorium would give the commission time to “take a breath” and see how the law plays out. He said the commission would have another public hearing in spring either to rescind the moratorium and enact zoning regulations for cannabis establishments or continue the moratorium.
Sinko said the moratorium prevents someone from submitting an application next month, forcing the commission to consider a proposal without regulations in place. Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said if the town has nothing specific in the regulations, the proposed use would fall into whatever zoning use that is “most similar.”
Resident Andrew Sawyer noted that since Preston would be allowed only one growing and one retail establishment, that license “likely has a lot of value,” given the town’s proximity to the region’s two casinos. He compared the situation to New Jersey’s cap on liquor licenses, which he said has resulted in sales of licenses for over $1 million.
In an email to the commission, Sawyer asked “whether Preston can explore auctioning off the license?”
“If that’s not allowed, are there other mechanisms by which the town can capture some of the value of the exclusive license, such as through a higher tax rate,” he wrote. “Otherwise, the town will be simply giving value away to whoever gets that license.”
Warzecha called Sawyer’s suggestion “a good question” and said the commission could examine whether such a move would be allowed.
Resident Scott Hunter, who owns Preston Market, which sells CBD products, and the CBD store American Shaman in the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods, said he has been following the legalization of marijuana in Connecticut. He told the PZC on Tuesday that the state doesn’t even have any regulations in place for retail cannabis businesses.
“I think it’s a very prudent decision to wait and see,” he said of the Preston moratorium. “That’s my take on it. I think it’s a very, very good idea.”
Ben Tamsky of Stonington, former chairman of that town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said he attended Preston’s hearing to learn what other towns are doing. He said he was surprised Tuesday’s hearing had such a low turnout.
Warzecha said the cannabis issue will be placed on the PZC agenda each month for discussion throughout the moratorium, as the commission obtains more information to decide whether and where to allow the establishments.