By COLIN A. YOUNG Day Staff Writer
Waterford - As the Department of Consumer Protection prepares this month to license the state's first medical marijuana production and dispensary facilities, some towns have closed their doors to the new industry, at least temporarily.
But last month here, the Planning and Zoning Commission imposed a one-year moratorium on accepting applications for medical marijuana production and dispensary facilities in the town.
In addition to being granted a state license, any potential production or dispensary facility must meet all "state and local building, fire and zoning requirements and local ordinances," according to DCP regulations.
The commission determined that the medical marijuana facilities "have the potential to impair the health, safety and welfare of its citizens."
Planning Director Dennis Goderre said the temporary moratorium is intended to allow the town to develop restrictions and standards for medical marijuana facilities.
"It is really to evaluate how it fits into the land use of our community and making sure that we address it appropriately and fully understand the laws that have been recently put into place by the state of Connecticut," Goderre said.
The one-year moratorium took effect Dec. 23.
Statewide, about a dozen municipalities have imposed similar moratoriums, including Madison, West Hartford, Wallingford, North Branford and New Canaan.
"We imposed a nine-month moratorium to give us adequate time to review our regulations and to respond to this new use," Madison Town Planner David Anderson said. "We didn't want to get caught flat-footed without having really dove into our regulations to figure out if this proposed new use is appropriate for a commercial zone or if there are other zones it should be considered for."
Madison's moratorium took effect Oct. 11 and will expire July 11.
DCP - which has oversight of the state's medical marijuana program - has received 16 applications for production facilities and 27 applications for dispensary facilities. The department is expected to award three licenses for production facilities and up to five for dispensaries later this month with the possibility of the facilities being operational in the spring.
In Norwich, Jason Vincent, vice president of the Norwich Community Development Corp., has said he contacted four companies to invite them to consider Norwich because the operation could have a financial benefit to the city.
Vintage Foods Ltd., which has an office in Ledyard, and Bloomfield-based Nascent Sciences LLC both hope to open a medical marijuana production facility in the former Decorative Screen Printing building in the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park. The completely indoor operation would use large amounts of electricity - purchased from Norwich Public Utilities - along with natural gas and water from the city-owned utility.
"I think that these are smart towns; these are progressive towns," said Robert Specht, a board member of the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "I think these are towns that have taken their heads out of the sand and have realized that this medicine is here, this medicine is not going away and it's better to regulate it than to not."
Specht, of Hamden, said towns that have imposed moratoriums on medical marijuana facilities are denying themselves a possible revenue source. He cited reports, like one last week from the Denver Post, that industry experts estimate that Colorado stores took in more than $5 million in sales during the first week that recreational cannabis could be purchased legally in that state.
"Once these towns look at these numbers, I think they're cutting off their nose to spite their face and shortchanging their taxpayers and the patients who pay taxes in their towns by not giving them access to a tool their doctors have prescribed them to use," he said.
By law, DCP could eventually license up to 10 production facilities in the state. The number of dispensaries it licenses will depend on the number of registered patients and they will be "geographically dispersed." According to the most recent data from DCP, there are 1,343 patients certified to participate in the program, including 91 in New London County.
Because the state plans to issue more licenses in waves, towns like Waterford and Madison could still host a facility after seeing how other towns cope with the new industry.
"I think we will benefit from the timing," Anderson said. "We will be able to see what licenses are issued and where these uses are being proposed in other towns."
But, Anderson said, the moratorium does not mean the town would not consider allowing a dispensary or production facility in the future.
"We're taking somewhat of a cautious approach," he said. "The town of Madison hasn't made any kind of formal decision on whether we are in favor or opposed to the possibility of a dispensary or production facility."