New London commission could consider marijuana dispensary application

New London — A New Britain pharmacy owner is considering New London for one of the state’s newest marijuana dispensaries and is testing the city’s zoning regulations in the process.

Todd Degroff, a pharmacist and owner of Beacon Prescriptions in New Britain, was among several dispensary advocates to address the city’s planning and zoning commission earlier this month in part to gauge the commission's reaction.

The commission, similar to a debate it had in 2013, considered whether or not a dispensary would fit into the retail category of its regulations or if more specific language was needed.

No vote was taken, though several commission members said they were inclined to look at the dispensary in a different, more positive light now that the state’s nine dispensaries are up and running, seemingly without any incidents or a rise in crime that some opponents argued might happen.

“To me, the way it's regulated in Connecticut, I really don’t see much difference between physician-prescribed marijuana and physician-prescribed anything else you buy in a pharmacy,” said commission member Ronna Stuller.

Commissioner Karl Saszik, who voted against interpreting a dispensary as a permitted retail use in 2013, said the stigma associated with dispensaries has disappeared.

“We weren’t sure if we wanted to be the first to jump in the water and test it out,” Saszik said at a recent meeting.

For the first time since 2013, the state is looking to add to the number of dispensaries in the state, which now stands at nine. The state Department of Consumer Protection announced in January it would accept new applications with a goal of issuing anywhere between three and 10 new licenses, said spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson. Those applications are due by April 9.

The deadline is approaching fast, and the state applications mandate a leased site in compliance with local zoning regulations, said attorney Gordon Videll, who represents Degroff.

Videll said the state already regulates dispensaries above and beyond what the city does for retail, mandating buffers from residences and restricting its location within 1,000 feet of schools or churches. The state regulations alone, he said, severely limit the number of viable dispensary locations in New London.

There are also security requirements and the fact the dispensary must be run by licensed pharmacist. Marijuana prescriptions are currently issued for 22 state-approved medical conditions that include cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

Videll said he has already located a potential site in New London, though he cannot apply for the dispensary application without a clear interpretation or consensus from the planning and zoning commission on its regulations.

There were 24,348 registered marijuana patients in the state as of Feb. 18 — 2,688 in New London County, DCP statistics show. With the two closest dispensaries being in Montville and Branford, Videll said a dispensary “will be automatically a successful business in New London.” He anticipates that the traffic it brings into the city would benefit other businesses.

Dr. Jeffrey Goldblatt, who practices in Old Lyme and is one of 834 physicians licensed in the state to prescribe medical marijuana, said his patients are mostly over the age of 55 and would benefit from a closer dispensary location. Goldblatt said many of his patients, about 500 over the last year, have benefited from the marijuana, especially the ones with neurological problems.

“I have to admit I’ve been very impressed,” Goldblatt told the planning and zoning commission at a meeting on Thursday.

Before settling on Montville for its dispensary location, Thames Valley Alternative Relief co-founder Laurie Zrenda said she had tested the zoning waters in New London, where the commission, back in 2013, discussed amendments to its regulations for both dispensaries and grow operations. Ultimately, the commission voted 4-3 against classifying dispensaries as a retail use and pot production as a manufacturing use.

Within two years of opening, Thames Valley was serving more than 150 patients each day. Zrenda said her business has steadily grown and is expecting to move to an expanded location at the former Bank of America Building off Route 32 in the coming weeks.

She said she had no plans to apply for another dispensary license but has made calls around for someone she knows. She said she is still not comfortable that New London would be accepting.

“That’s the biggest challenge for anyone looking for a location is getting the town to be OK with it,” Zrenda said.

Videll said he also looked at Waterford as a potential location, but the town has regulations in place that, in his opinion, are designed to be a deterrence. Waterford in 2015 approved changes to its regulations to include dispensaries. The regulations limit the size of a dispensary to 2,000 square feet and mandate that it not be located within 1,500 feet of the property line of any school, church, public place of worship, library, or any establishment that holds a liquor license.

Degroff, a pharmacist and would-be dispensary owner doing business as Future Care LLC, said in a statement that New London would serve as an excellent location.

“Future Care is excited to develop a secure, state of the art facility to serve patients of New London County while adhering to a true pharmaceutical model,” he said in the statement.

The city’s planning and zoning commission is expected to pick up discussion on dispensaries in the near future.

g.smith@theday.com

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