Hamden zoners reject cannabis regulations, seeking more time to study and tighter rules

HAMDEN — While several commissioners said more education is required before enacting regulations for adult-use cannabis, some said they wanted tighter rules, more oversight or even to ban cannabis sales entirely.

The Planning and Zoning commission voted unanimously to extend a cannabis moratorium for another three months after a motion to approve draft regulations failed by a 2-5 vote.

The current moratorium is set to expire in January. If the town doesn’t take any action before the moratorium expires, those seeking cannabis permits would be able to apply for existing permits of the most similar use.

The proposed regulations identified certain transect zones or manufacturing zones cannabis businesses could be in, limit proximity of cannabis establishments to schools and each other, and established possible cannabis business incubators.

This version of the regulations didn’t cover the process for a one-day cannabis event, like previously reported, which would bring back events such as High Bazaar with proper permitting.

Michelle Mastropetre, a commissioner, said she voted no because she thought there could be potential issues that could arise and she didn't feel comfortable being one of the first municipalities to enact such regulations.

“I don’t think that the regulations are tight enough, maybe I need more education on this,” said Mastropetre, one of the two commissioners who expressed support for the prohibition.

Commissioner Charles Elbert said the commission isn’t being decisive enough on the issue because there are pros and cons to allowing marijuana in town, citing Colorado as a “nightmare” example.

“I understand the economic incentives … but it wouldn’t stop crimes associated with it,” Elbert said, raising concerns around traffic and readiness of enforcing the regulations.

He said it’s a good idea but doesn’t think the town should allow them in the urban center with already prevalent crimes and congested traffic, but acknowledged these businesses wouldn’t want to be elsewhere.

“Are we ready for that here?” Elbert asked. “There are a lot of questions that aren’t answered.”

Commissioner Robert Cocchiaro said he didn't want to stop the sale of cannabis because that would mean losing out from the economic development benefits of cannabis manufacturing. 

“I think that’s where more economic development will happen by us approving this,” he said. “There are tons of businesses that we’re trying to get them to come here.”

Regardless of having a cannabis retail establishment or a manufacturer, Cocchiaro said people can smell marijuana driving down Dixwell Avenue or any town, so by approving the measures, entrepreneurs have a choice to come to Hamden instead of other places.

Town Planner Eugene Livshits said cannabis businesses will have to go through a licensing process with the state Department of Consumer Protection and through a permitting process with the local zoning board, meaning state and zoners still have oversight.

There are at least 35 municipalities that have approved cannabis regulations, according to the state’s database, including New Haven, West Haven and Middletown

At least 22 municipalities have established bans — including Prospect, Southington and Greenwich  — and 53 have imposed moratoriums, citing the need for more time to review the state law, craft new regulations and solicit public feedback.

With marijuana being legalized in Connecticut last year, the state had targeted the end of this year for retail stores to open but that timeline will likely be delayed until early next year

The delay is due to the process of existing medical marijuana producers to convert their faculties to serve the recreational market.

Seven medical marijuana dispensaries, including Affinity Health and Wellness Inc. in New Haven, have completed the steps necessary to receive licenses to sell recreational marijuana, according to the DCP.

Affinity Health in the Westville area of New Haven received a permit to open the hybrid cannabis business earlier this month, becoming the first such cannabis site in the city. But the business won’t get a state license until more sites are approved to prevent customers traffic in a single business.

Meanwhile in Orange, a proposal for a drive-thru cannabis retailer has received a fervent backlash from residents over concerns of endangering children and lowering the town’s morals.