Should Wilton regulate recreational marijuana sales? Here's what the town is considering.

Wilton must pivot to alternative options on how to handle legal marijuana sale in town.

Wilton must pivot to alternative options on how to handle legal marijuana sale in town.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — If a “local question” about how the town should handle the sale of recreational marijuana was included on a public ballot in November, the municipality will be legally bound by the outcome of the vote, an attorney advised officials this week.

Instead, town officials are considering alternatives presented Monday by attorney Nicholas Bamonte, who assists town attorney Ira Bloom.

“I know this board, perhaps, was initially considering just posing the question on the upcoming November ballot in a non-binding way to try to get a sense of the town, whether the residents want to prohibit, or not, the sale of recreational marijuana here in town,” Bamonte told the Board of Selectmen. “And we can’t do that.”

Bamonte said there is an option for the question to be posed in a binding way, which would legally require the town to take action based on the response.

“We do, however, have sort of a workaround,” Bamonte told the board. “I’ll run through these options.”

First, the attorney said the town could do nothing. This would allow for any businesses that would serve the recreational cannabis market to be treated as “any other retail establishment” in town. These businesses would be allowed to operate in any zoning area throughout the town.

“It’s basically an as-of-right option under these new laws, under these new authorities, for these businesses to start popping up and operating once they get licensed by the state,” Bamonte said. “If we do nothing, it is at their own whim. We have no control of it.”

The second option, Bamonte said, is developing a local referendum.

“If 10 percent of residents that are registered — so we are talking about almost 1,300 town residents — were to sign a petition, that would have to be sent to the town clerk by Sept. 2,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said. “That's the absolute last deadline.”

Wilton Town Clerk Lori Kaback would then have to verify each of the 1,300 signatures and have the petition sent to the state by Sept. 17.

“It’s a pretty tight timeframe,” Bamonte said.

If the petition moved forward, it would be placed on a ballot to be voted upon this fall. The outcome of that vote tally, Bamonte said, becomes binding law for the town. The town does incur the costs of a referendum, if it were to take place. Bamonte said the referendum was a “broad option” that doesn't give the town the opportunity to “finesse” the regulation.

The final option that Bamonte presented was to set a series of regulations through town zoning requirements that would either prohibit cannabis establishments in town from operating outright or restrict certain aspects of business such as hours of operation, signage and proximity to certain locations such as hospitals, schools, houses of worship and armed forces facilities.

“That option does give us a lot more control and flexibility,” the attorney said.

In such a case, the Planning and Zoning Commission would hold a public hearing to craft its own regulations in the “best interest of the town.”

The town could also create an ordinance through its town charter to add similar restrictions.

Selectwoman Deborah McFadden asked if neighboring towns in Fairfield County were seeking moratoriums. Bamonte said some were seeking moratoriums through zoning measures, but clarified that such a decision would mean that no official action on cannabis-related zoning applications could be made within the moratorium period. That period is intended to be temporary, but similar moratoriums have had periods of six months to two years.

For more information on Connecticut’s adult-use of cannabis regulations, visit the state’s website.