Cromwell leaders approve ordinance limiting cannabis facilities

Cromwell Town Hall

Cromwell Town Hall

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

CROMWELL — Town Council members  voted unanimously to approve an ordinance capping the number of cannabis facilities that will be allowed to operate in town.

The ordinance permits Cromwell to have no more than two recreational cannabis retailers and one medical dispensary. It also allows for a possible configuration of one recreational facility and one hybrid facility, with the latter fulfilling both the recreational and medical use categories.

The ordinance now must undergo a public hearing before it can be adopted, according to the town charter. Then, it will take effect 30 days after a summary of its provisions have been published in the newspaper.

"If they don’t get (cannabis) in Cromwell, they’re going to go to another town and get it," Councilman Al Waters said. "So it might as well be here in town."

After voting to authorize cannabis sales in Cromwell, councilors tasked the Planning and Zoning Commission with crafting regulations, which were approved in May.

But planning officials said they were thrown a curve ball when the state decided to remove the population-based cap in its cannabis bill that had limited the number of retailers and cultivators in a municipality.

Previously, towns and cities with populations of 25,000 residents or fewer were allowed only one retailer and one cultivator, according to the outdated statute. Now, municipalities can allow an unlimited number of those facilities.

The amendment in state law prompted town leaders to weigh the consequences of allowing an unrestricted number of cannabis retailers in a town of about 14,000 people. Cromwell's new ordinance will prevent the market from becoming oversaturated and descending into a free-for-all, Mayor Steve Fortenbach said.

"My concern was that, because it’s a very lucrative business, you could have half a dozen applications before our town could even be active and come up with a plan against it," Fortenbach said. "We didn’t want it to become a wild, wild west of recreational use."

Since Connecticut legalized adult-use recreational cannabis last year, many businesses have tried to be at the forefront of the state's effort to monetize the industry, requesting permits from local zoning boards as the Department of Consumer Protection slowly goes through the process of issuing licenses.

Cromwell already has approved two applications for cannabis retailers: one at 33 Berlin Road, the site of the old Riverdale Cleaners, and the other on 5.3 acres of vacant land at 5 Berlin Road.

About half of Connecticut municipalities have either approved or are in the process of crafting cannabis zoning regulations, according to East Hampton developer Andrew Simonow, whose company, 6 West Ave. LLC, submitted the application for 33 Berlin Road.

"As a council, we may not agree with the recreational marijuana idea, but we recognize this is what the law is in Connecticut, and there’s a tax incentive to the municipality," Fortenbach said, referencing the 3 percent tax municipalities with cannabis sales can collect.

Council members said they didn't want to preclude a medical dispensary from opening in Cromwell, seeking to include language in the ordinance that allows for one of those businesses in addition to the two recreational retailers.

The state hasn't issued medical cannabis licenses in several years, a DCP spokesperson said. With the adult-use market now legal, some medical businesses are converting to hybrid facilities to expand their customer base.

But the Town Council wanted to ensure that Cromwell residents had the option of going to a medical dispensary should the state begin licensing those facilities again.

austin.mirmina@hearstmediact.com