As recreational cannabis sales begin in CT, New Milford temporarily bans them locally

NEW MILFORD — Beginning this week, recreational cannabis sales have been banned in New Milford for one year.

In a unanimous vote, the Town Council imposed a temporary moratorium on recreational cannabis sales at the council’s Monday meeting on Jan. 9. The moratorium will buy time for the town to better understand the state's legislation and also learn what other states are doing. The vote came the day before recreational cannabis sales began in the state. 

Medical pot sales, however, are exempt from the moratorium as long as they comply with the town’s zoning regulations. Medical cannabis dispensaries have been permitted as an accepted use to New Milford’s general business zone since 2016.

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said the moratorium will be used to better understand the state’s legislation regarding cannabis and the legislation’s impact on towns going forward.

“There’s still some fluidity in the actual cannabis legislation,” Bass said. “It’s about 300 pages long currently and as the legislature goes back into service, so to speak, in February, there may be some additional tweaks to the legislation. We want to make sure as we go through this process that we have the latest, most up-to-date information and also be prepared.”

Bass also said the moratorium will help the town be prepared for recreational cannabis sales and learn from what other towns are doing. He said it will also allow the town to learn from any issues other towns might face regarding recreational cannabis shops. 

Town Attorney Randy DiBella said that any individual interested in opening a cannabis store needs a Connecticut state license in order to do so.

“A lot of towns think that nobody can come into their town and sell marijuana, even if they have a state license, if the town doesn’t authorize it,” he said, adding this is “not true.”

As an option, DiBella said the Town Council can elect to let the Zoning Commission handle recreational cannabis sales on a use basis (meaning where shops can and can’t be established) or let the Zoning Commission deny the stores in town. DiBella said denying the cannabis stores can be tough to do because they can be appealed.

Town Council members discussed how to approach imposing the moratorium, the time length for the moratorium and what directions the state might enact for regulating recreational cannabis sales.

“My problem with this whole state nonsense is they’re dancing around the legislation,” said Councilman Sal Rynkiewicz. “They’re changing from A to Z… If they have something in mind… either you do it or you don’t."

DiBella suggested the town enact an ordinance to ban recreational cannabis sales for a minimum period of one year, subject to revisit by the Town Council. He said based on what he’s seen in a couple of towns, he also suggested the town appoint a committee to track the Department of Public Health and the Department of Consumer Protection concerning the regulatory process.

“We just want to know what the regulations are and what they will be,” DiBella said.

DiBella said he’d add language to the ordinance on the moratorium to give the Town Council flexibility to revisit the moratorium anytime, whether to extend it or truncate it.

“The options are unclear, the future is muddy and we do have the opportunity to do a moratorium, which would allow us to see what goes, what doesn’t and what matters,” said Town Council Vice Chair Katy Francis.