Local representatives weigh in on 'cannabiz' options for New Canaan, Wilton after moratoriums

After much deliberation by both New Canaan and Wilton this summer on the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana and the prospect of instituting restrictions to prevent cannabis-related businesses from entering their small business sector, local representatives for both towns shared their insights on the topic on Tuesday.

“I am a firm opponent to New Canaan and Wilton opening up recreational adult-use marijuana storefronts,” said state Rep. Tom O’Dea, a Republican who represents both communities, on Monday. “We don't need adult-use marijuana sales in our towns.”

O’Dea, who helped in heading the proposal of an amendment to “fix” Senate Bill 1201, expressed his concerns over the legalization of marijuana on a statewide level and why a retail element is not needed in the towns he represents.

First, O’Dea wanted a strict regulation on the content of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in all cannabinoid products sold across the state. O’Dea said he would have “limited THC content to 30 percent” and “increased the age to 25” for those wishing to purchase the products.

State Sen. Will Haskell, a Democrat who also represents both Wilton and New Canaan, agreed with O’Dea’s sentiments, saying that he “fought really hard to see that THC levels were regulated.” Haskell said that while he doesn’t suggest residents indulge in consuming cannabis, he wants those that do to be able to do so safely through government regulation and transparency from the producers of the products.

Haskell, like O’Dea, sees this as a public health issue.

He made reference to an incident in 2018 where dozens of people overdosed on synthetic marijuana tainted with fentanyl on the New Haven Green. While the state government can regulate what goes into the cannabis with strict oversight into the production facilities, he said, other measures such as strict age-focused advertising and age restrictions can help provide further safety measures.

O’Dea also made reference to the effects of individuals purchasing mairjuana off of the “black market.” He also said that, through researching indoor growing methods since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2012, he isn’t convinced that the “big business” production model is foolproof.

According to a paper titled “Cannabis and the Environment: What Science Tells Us and What We Still Need to Know” published in January in the Environmental Science and Technology Letters and by the American Chemical Society, indoor growth “may alleviate water stress, it may also increase the carbon footprint of cannabis by encouraging energy-intensive indoor cultivation. In addition, the social and economic impacts of shifting the location of cannabis production should be considered when developing policies.” The study adds that “additional data are needed to fully understand the potential risks and implications of indoor cannabis cultivation on air quality.”

At a Wilton Planning and Zoning meeting earlier this month, the commission asked questions on a clear distinction between the production and retail elements and how they both could affect the town if allowed to open.

Both Wilton and New Canaan are exploring options of opening moratoriums on all cannabis-related businesses to take a “wait and see” approach on how the rest of the state handles it. After the temporary moratorium periods end, a more permanent decision on whether to allow cannabis-related businesses can be made.

“I think our local governments are smart enough not to do that,” O’Dea said of New Canaan and Wilton.

The state representative also focused on the public safety element of allowing for these businesses to enter the towns, claiming that an increase of accidents on roads and highways can result from the passing of the bill and increased sales of cannabinoid products.

“If a bellow of smoke comes out of the car,” O’Dea said, “a police officer cannot pull someone out for probable cause of inhalation unless there is some other sign.”

Haskell said he wants to promote road safety, cracking down on driving while high and keeping cannabis products out of the hands of minors.

The Democratic senator said that “erasure” for individuals currently serving prison terms or those unable to find housing, jobs or to apply to school due to previous low-level nonviolent drug offenses is important. Anyone with a prior record of cannabis possession conviction of four ounces or less will have those charges erased from their record.

While some towns may be debating the profitability of allowing retail cannabis storefronts, with three percent of sales being tossed back to the municipalities, O’Dea does not believe that the bill will produce any significant revenue boosts locally or on a state level.

“It is not going to be the panacea or the benefit to the economy that people will be, I just don't see it,” O’Dea said.

Haskell said that while he does not believe the full focus of the bill is to be as a revenue booster, it can be a revenue generator.

“Let Norwalk, Bridgeport (and) Stamford open up those storefronts ... We don’t need them in New Canaan and Wilton.”