Wethersfield’s police chief objected to recreational marijuana sales in town. Planners OK’d them anyway.

March 30, 2023 · Hartford Courant

Even though Police Chief Rafael Medina warned of potential mental health concerns, traffic hazards and more, Wethersfield planners have set new rules that allow recreational marijuana shops in town.

The decision is likely to draw applications from businesses that want to set up shop on the heavily trafficked Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield’s chief commercial strip.

The town enacted a six-month moratorium in late 2021 after the Connecticut General Assembly authorized marijuana sales in the state, but it expired last May. Planners have since been researching what other towns are doing and getting public opinion about how Wethersfield should proceed.

This month, the planning and zoning commission extended its hearing to a second night since turnout was sparse, but the second session didn’t draw much more attention.

Even though few residents showed up, the cannabis industry was well represented. Michael Scadron, a real estate consultant with SLAP Consulting, a Chicago-based firm that works with marijuana retailers, told the commission that authorizing sales in town is the right approach.

“I’ve worked for some of the largest cannabis companies in the world over the last five or six years and seen this use come into many towns such as yours and create, in many cases nothing, but a positive outcome when it comes to revenue for the town,” Scadron said. “Security and safety has never been an issue.”

On the other side, Medina submitted a letter of several pages detailing why he doesn’t want recreational sales in town. He cited the prospect of “increased calls (for police) and cost for services; increased interaction between law enforcement and emotionally disturbed persons; increased marijuana-related medical emergencies; and an increase in vehicular/pedestrian traffic and traffic-related accidents, including fatal motor vehicle accidents.”

The police budget doesn’t yet have money to do more crisis intervention team training, he wrote.

“Cannabis use may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, depression, and other psychiatric disorders that social services and the police department must respond to,” he wrote. “Increased interaction with emotionally disturbed persons will place police officers in increased situations for using force, resulting in more complaints and higher liability for the town.”

Medina cited a Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal reporting that up to 22 percent of marijuana users experience “acute anxiety or panic attacks following cannabis use,” with 15 percent suffering psychotic symptoms.

But Scadron and others argued that the most sensible approach is to ensure that marijuana sales are done according to regulations.

“It’s important to bring this to the town under a regulated basis rather than allow it to thrive on the black market,” Scadron told the commission. “We’re big proponents of the idea that the town should get ahead of this sort of use.”

Amanda Ostrowitz, also of SLAP Consulting, told the commission that the Silas Deane Highway is an ideal location for a dispensary because of the traffic volume and surrounding population density. She predicted revenue for a store there could run $750,000 to $1 million a month, creating about $300,000 a year in new revenue for the town.

Ostrowitz said if she opened a store there, she would anticipate having six full-time and eight part-time workers. A manager would always be on duty along with a security guard, she said.

But resident Tom Carson urged the town to wait until other Connecticut communities have experience with local dispensaries.

“We all need to ask ourselves why we should allow the sale of cannabis in Wethersfield? What is the benefit to the residents of our town? The money?,” he said in a letter. “Cannabis is now the latest product (i.e. tobacco and alcohol), or activity (gambling) that government officials acknowledge cause some health and/or social harm, but instead of banning the product or activity, or simply decriminalizing it, their position is ‘We’ll let you sell your harmful product as long as you give us a cut of the action.’ ”

Michael Panek, who owns commercial property on the Silas Deane Highway, told commissioners he supports having a recreational marijuana establishment in town. He noted that just a few years ago, more than a dozen residents opposed having medical marijuana sales in town. The absence of many comments this year indicates public opposition has dropped, he said.

The commission decided on a split vote to authorize marijuana retailing, but with mandatory minimum distances from homes and schools. (Full Story)

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