Opinion: Ridgefield marijuana prohibition misguided

Marijuana products are displayed at the Good Leaf Dispensary in St. Regis, N.Y.

Marijuana products are displayed at the Good Leaf Dispensary in St. Regis, N.Y.

Seth Wenig / Associated Press

It is the obligation of the citizens of Ridgefield to come to the Town Hall Annex at 66 Prospect St. Wednesday, Sept. 7, to correct a mistake made by the majority of the Board of Selectmen. The Board of Selectmen are attempting to prohibit a retail cannabis business from existing in town. The board is endorsing ignorance over the town’s best interests.

For those that do not want others consuming cannabis, the proposed ordinance will not change anything in terms of people in Ridgefield having access to cannabis. It will prevent the town from gaining 3 percent in taxes on every sale made as well as enjoying new jobs in our town. The law that legalized cannabis in Connecticut last year makes sure Connecticut residents will be able to purchase cannabis in the near future, regardless of what town they are in or what action town boards take. The law also provides for cannabis deliveries and prohibits towns from banning those deliveries from occurring. There will be more than a dozen places for people to buy cannabis in Connecticut in less than a year. If consumers do not want to go in person, customers will be allowed to have cannabis delivered. The argument over whether we want cannabis in our town is moot.

The law enabling cannabis sales also adds a great deal of tax revenue for the towns that allow sales. It specifically provides that a 3-percent tax on every sale goes directly to the town in which the business is situated. Based on the information session held by the Ridgefield Economic Community Development Counsel last year, it is reasonable to expect a retail cannabis business here would generate $500,000 in sales tax revenue annually just for Ridgefield. The owner of a cannabis business in Massachusetts who spoke as part of the session explained that the tax revenue was not nearly as important for a town as the impact of job creation. She has 112 employees at one dispensary and is attracting consumers to the town. We lose the taxes, the jobs, and the visiting consumers by enacting a prohibition. There is no benefit for anyone by making this economic sacrifice as people in Ridgefield will legally possess and purchase cannabis regardless of board action.

As a former prosecutor I say without hesitation alcohol is substantially more dangerous than cannabis. Cannabis is even safer when it is legalized and regulated as it is now in Connecticut. Most violent crimes I prosecuted involved alcohol and none involved cannabis. I can also refer you to experts such as Dr. Stephen H. Frye. Frye points out the many problems with alcohol are not seen with cannabis. Excessive drinking resulted in more than 95,000 deaths per year prior to the pandemic which has seen significant increases in drinking deaths. Alcohol and cigarettes are more addictive than cannabis. Six people die directly of alcohol poisoning every day in America, but there is no known case of anyone dying from cannabis poisoning. Doctors can measure an increase in aggression from people drinking alcohol while measuring a decrease in aggression in people using cannabis. Cannabis is not a gateway drug, alcohol and cigarettes are. That gateway frequently leads to opioids which kill more than 75,000 Americans annually. The town should not prohibit alcohol sales, but it should recognize alcohol sales are more dangerous than cannabis sales.

Prohibition of cannabis has its history based in racism and xenophobia. At the turn of the 20th century there was no law prohibiting cannabis in America. Some politicians and power brokers spread false narratives about cannabis to target Black people and an influx of Mexican immigrants. Today we hear the majority of the Board of Selectmen and a minority of vocal townspeople repeat the false narratives that came from that era.

Everyone in town who shows up to the meeting Wednesday gets to vote as to whether Ridgefield will prohibit retail establishments in town. It is unfortunate that the Board of Selectmen set this meeting at a difficult time for working families. It is unfortunate that they chose not to have a public referendum as originally discussed so that only people who show up at 7:30 p.m. in the middle of the week can have a say. It is the responsibility of all Ridgefielders to show up to say we will not support bias, prejudice, and ignorance. We must show that we are a town that believes in facts over prejudice, peace over violence, economic growth over antiquated fear, and logic over baseless opinions.

Daniel Wehking is a board-certified criminal attorney, former prosecutor, and resident of Ridgefield.