Norwalk cannabis ordinance gains committee approval

Photo of Abigail Brone
Norwalk's cannabis ordinance has advanced for the Common Council to vote on next week after receiving committee approval on Tuesday night.

Norwalk's cannabis ordinance has advanced for the Common Council to vote on next week after receiving committee approval on Tuesday night.

Hans Pennink / Associated Press

NORWALK — Following 40 minutes of public comment and an hour of Common Council member discussion, the city's cannabis ordinance is set to be approved by the full council next week. 

During a roughly two-hour virtual meeting Tuesday evening, the council's Ordinance Committee approved the measure with a 6-1 vote. Sole Republican Council member Bryan Meek voted against the ordinance.

"I appreciate all the work you guy have done on this, but I will continue to vote against it," Meek said. 

Meek, who previously voted against bringing the ordinance to a public hearing, said he doesn't want Norwalk to be one of the first communities to delve into cannabis sales.

"I understand this is state law and I'll leave it to Hartford to learn from the mistakes made by other states, but in the same vein, like our surrounding towns, I don't think Norwalk should be on the bleeding edge here when it comes to locating dispensaries," Meek said in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media Group on Tuesday before the vote.

"The proponents argue that the 3 percent revenue is too lucrative to pass up and that if we don't move first others nearby will and we'll lose out on the benefits. I fail to see that as a reason to assume all the risks associated."

Following public comment, Council and Committee member Josh Goldstein clarified what the ordinance will regulate, suggesting some of the public participants were under the impression the ordinance would legalize cannabis use. 

"It's not up to Norwalk to determine whether to legalize it or not, in fact it's already legal in Connecticut. They're already allowed to possess it," Goldstein said. "Some items mentioned are good points, but are beyond the scope of what a municipality can do in an ordinance."

As multiple comments focused on limiting where residents can smoke or consume cannabis in public, Goldstein said the state law requires municipalities to provide an outdoor public location for cannabis consumption.  

An hour of committee discussion and minor ordinance changes followed 40 minutes of public comment, most of which focused on concerns regarding public cannabis consumption. The approved ordinance also gives the mayor power to designate public smoking areas. 

Residents complained about people consuming cannabis openly in public spaces and how the sales revenue will be spent, with some requesting the money go toward services for those in recovery from drug addiction or to maintain parks and public spaces designated for cannabis use. 

"As someone that’s lived this, as a parent, as a therapist and as a peer, I really ask that any money to be gained by marijuana sales are put aside to provide counseling and support for those whose lives are damaged, destroyed by marijuana," said  Katherine Snedaker, the Independent candidate for Registrar of Voters.

"The point at which the deficit, the down sides of the drug, are equaled out with the positive, then the money can be used for something else. Insurances don’t cover rehab or therapy or support for marijuana because it doesn't kill you in the way that they view that if you come off alcohol and you're detoxing. ... We are going against big tobacco that sees money and a generation that specifically watched marijuana on all their TV shows."

Some people expressed disappointment about the imminent approval of the ordinance despite some resident opposition. 

During Monday's informational town hall, Planning and Zoning Director Steve Kleppin said the cannabis retailers will likely be kept to commercial areas, such as Westport, Connecticut and Main avenues. Speaking during the meeting's public participation period, former Common Council candidate Richard Bonenfant expressed disapproval.

"I listened (Monday) night to the panel and it seemed they only dealt with the questions they wanted to," Bonenfant said. "Put it in the neighborhood that got impacted by drugs in the first place because personally, I don’t want it on Westport Avenue. I live close to that. It's your job to tell zoning where you want it and not have it the other way around."

Bonenfant was one of two participants who critiqued the ordinance approval process.

"Let's recognize this for what it is tonight, it’s a public hearing because it’s a required box you have to check off and you already know what you're going to do anyway," Bonenfant said. 

The ordinance permits three cannabis retailers in the city that cannot be located within 500 feet of "sensitive" sites such as schools, churches and rehabilitation centers, according to the ordinance

The Common Council is expected to vote on the ordinance during its Sept. 27 meeting. 

Abigail Brone can be reached at abigail.brone@hearstmediact.com.