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Norwich aldermen OK revised guidelines for plant-based businesses

Norwich — Calling cannabis an emerging industry, the City Council on Monday night unanimously passed an ordinance that more specifically allows plant-based manufacturing in the city.

The action comes after city economic development officials said interested cannabis manufacturing and recreational marijuana retail developers were looking at Norwich as a potential location to expand the newly legalized industry.

Norwich Community Development Corporation, or NCDC, President Kevin Brown said such developers wanted more definitive language in the city's zoning regulations that said plant-based manufacturers were welcome. The ordinance approved by the council states "Commercial cultivation, micro-cultivation, manufacturing and production of plant-based products and food or beverages, may be permitted as Manufacturing, Advanced Manufacturing, Food Manufacturing, Precision Manufacturing, and Research and Development."

Brown was one of four people to speak during a public hearing on the ordinance before aldermen approved it. The measure "makes it crystal clear for those who wish to do business in the emerging cannabis industry that they can go to the state in full confidence that they're asking for a license to do business in Norwich, and that it'll be authorized," he said.

Brown added that the city could see significant revenue from hosting plant-based businesses, both in the form of increased tax payments, and by being customers of Norwich Public Utilities. "I think it's a good thing for the city", he said. "Norwich should not be on the sideline as this industry gets its start here in Connecticut."

Norwich Director of Planning and Neighborhood Services Deanna Rhodes said her office was instrumental in putting together the revised guidelines. "This doesn't change what our manufacturing is in the city," she said. "It's within the zones that currently exist. This just clarifies what the definitions are for this manufacturing."

No one spoke against the ordinance during the public hearing. The City Council also serves as the zoning authority for Norwich.

Council President Pro-Tem Joseph DeLucia said it was "appropriate and timely that (the city) clarify these zoning definitions before cannabis becomes a reality in our region and state. I applaud the work of the city staff to have Norwich get out in front of this instead of playing catch-up like we've done in the past."

Alderman Swarnjit Singh stressed the ordinance "isn't just for cannabis manufacturers. It can open the door for many plant-based businesses, like meat for example. It's a good first step."

There are some restrictions. The new state law that allows cannabis-related businesses only permits one such retail store in Norwich. The city resolution mandates a cannabis retail establishment must be at least 1,000 feet away from any elementary, middle or high school, and public libraries. That means no store could be located between the Otis Library on Main Street, and the Norwich Superior Courthouse, according to city Mayor Peter Nystrom.

The mayor said the new ordinance won't be the last time the City Council will deal with issues regarding the fledgling cannabis industry. "We'll be focusing on possible sites for a retail shop," he said. "We may also have to decide where we may limit where (in Norwich) recreational marijuana can be used. For example, public parks. It's very good, though, that we're working together on this."

State law regarding the location of cannabis manufacturing plants allows developers who would locate in areas identified as those disproportionately impacted by past drug enforcement laws to avoid the state license lottery process. There are six such locations in Norwich, according to Brown. He said none of those sites lies within the city's business park.

Brown predicts the new industry should start coming together in the city by early next year.

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