Fairfield looks at extending ban on marijuana establishments

Customers wait in line on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at Zen Leaf Meriden, in Meriden, Conn. Jan. 10, 2022.

Customers wait in line on the first day of recreational marijuana sales at Zen Leaf Meriden, in Meriden, Conn. Jan. 10, 2022.

Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — With a looming deadline to decide if cannabis establishments are allowed in Fairfield, the Town Plan and Zoning Commission is considering whether it should make its ban longer or allow it to lapse.

The town's one year ban on cannabis establishments in Fairfield will expire in Feb. 28, and so the town needs to decide whether to extend the moratorium, make it permanent or create rules regarding such businesses in Fairfield.

Town Planner Jim Wendt told the commission he and is staff are recommending the TPZ extend the ban by year, given that recreational marijuana dispensaries just opened in Connecticut about two weeks ago and there is insufficient information about how the rollout will work in the state.

He said the town could decide which types of businesses and where they could operate if the town allowed cannabis businesses. Fairfield could also go in the other direction and prohibit it entirely.

Commissioner Alexis Harrison said that, if they were to approve certain uses, she would want to make sure it was specific to the town.

Commissioner Kathryn Braun said she was interested in hearing from people who support allowing it in Fairfield, as all the letters the commission has received so far have been against it. However she hears support for it when she talks about it with people in town they are supportive of it.

If approved, Wendt said creating regulations for cannabis businesses in town would be similar to the process for the outdoor dining regulations and take about as long to create.

"You're probably looking at a six month process," he said.

A resident told the commission he thinks waiting for more data would be absurd, as Colorado has already done impact studies on recreational marijuana. He said allowing sales in Fairfield would generate revenue for the town, and noted that when marijuana use goes up, opioid use trends down. He also said basing the decision off how it could impact young people would not makes sense, since about 75 percent of the town's population is older than 18 and adults should be allowed to make their own decisions.

"Why are we voluntarily letting businesses and customers go elsewhere?" he said, adding the town should embrace the opportunity. "It’s a total dereliction of duty."

Cathy Hazlett, the program director of the Fairfield CARES Community Coalition, said the organization opposes any cannabis establishments in town. Notably, Hazlett and members of her organization have been the only ones to speak at prior hearings on that matter. 

Hazlett said cannabis products have a negative impact on youth. She said most youths do not view pot as harmful, and the town allowing marijuana establishments would reinforce that belief. 

James Cunningham, a student at Fairfield Warde High School, echoed Hazlett's sentiment, saying he has seen the negative effects of marijuana use on his school peers both in terms of mental health and academic achievement. He said allowing those businesses in town would increase teen exposure to cannabis.

"It's clear that the presence of cannabis establishments in Fairfield would increase usage patterns in youth," he said, adding he supports extending the ban at the very least.