Grass on Grass Island? Greenwich considers a spot for public use of cannabis

Photo of Ken Borsuk

GREENWICH — Many towns and cities in Connecticut will be legally required to designate a public spot where cannabis use is allowed, and the town of Greenwich is weighing its options.

No decisions have been made. But the Greenwich Police Department suggested a possible spot: the parking lot of Grass Island, near both the Greenwich Dog Park and the town’s wastewater treatment plant.

“The chief and command staff have an idea where this space would go,” GPD Capt. Eric Scorca said at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Thursday morning. “We could keep it out of sight and out of mind, but it would be a public space where someone can go, and hopefully we would be able to control if it got out of hand. …

"We were thinking that Grass Island has some space over there. It’s not really residential, per se. It’s one way in and one way out so if there was one parking space designated we could absolutely regulate patrol-wise and monitor it on a frequent basis," Scorca said. "It’s not an area where there’s a lot of foot traffic and where residents would complain.”

But it was only a suggestion, Scorca said; it has not been formally proposed as the designated pot spot.

Selectperson Janet Stone-McGuigan suggested the Grass Island suggestion was “no pun intended.”

The state law that approved the recreational use of marijuana in Connecticut also mandates that all communities with 50,000 or more residents, which includes Greenwich, set a designated spot for public use if it regulates the use of cannabis in public.

First Selectman Fred Camillo indicated Thursday that he was in no rush to set one without further guidance from the state legislature.

“I think the legislature jumped too fast on this one,” said Camillo, a former state representative. “I’m a little nervous, personally, about designating a spot when we have so much concern from our law enforcement professionals on this. Personally, I would go slow with this.”

Town officials will speak with members of the new legislature post-election and “push for some kind of clarity,” Camillo said. 

The town could also choose not to regulate the use of cannabis in public, so it would not need to set a designated spot.

If a spot is designated, people who violate the policy by using cannabis in other areas outdoors in public, the town could issue citations with a fine of up to $50, Town Attorney Barbara Schellenberg said.

“The question is what does Greenwich want to do, if anything, to regulate the public use,” Schellenberg said.

The town’s legal department researched the policies in other Connecticut municipalities and said “most of them” had not made a decision, she said. Some have decided not to regulate cannabis at all and others were still discussing it, like Greenwich, Schellenberg said. 

Milford has designated a spot, but only on certain, marked areas on public sidewalks, she said.

“There are already regulations under the Clean Air Act that set where smoking of tobacco is not allowed,” Schellenberg said. “Automatically, the smoking of cannabis is not allowed (in these areas), either.”

Those areas include schools, restaurants, municipal buildings and more, but cigarettes smoking is allowed in public parks. Schellenberg said that without a policy designating a specific spot for cannabis use, people can use it in parks and other areas where they can smoke tobacco.

Stone-McGuigan first raised the issue last month and said she was “interested in restricting public use” of cannabis, including not just smoking but vaping as well.

“If we don’t, it’s allowed,” Stone-McGuigan said. “By designating a use for public use it’s not like we’re encouraging or allowing something that otherwise wouldn’t happen.”

Camillo said he was concerned that police officers would not be able to recognize someone who is impaired from cannabis use the way they can with someone who has been drinking alcohol. Schellenberg echoed that, saying that Chief of Police James Heavey said the same thing.

The first selectman said he wasn't comfortable with designating a spot without further guidance. Schellenberg indicated she did not believe waiting would be an issue because there was nothing in the state statute either establishing penalties for not having a designated spot or setting a deadline for a policy.

“You certainly do have the time to figure out what direction you want to go in,” Schellenberg said.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com