09/15/2021 09:00 a.m. EST
An application from a resident to prohibit marijuana dispensaries and producers in Essex was received at a regular meeting of the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) on Sept. 7 and scheduled for a public hearing at the commission’s Tuesday, Nov. 9 meeting.
In his application materials, Roger Kern discussed the commission’s earlier adoption of a 12-month moratorium, from Jan. 15, 2014, to Jan. 15, 2015 on applications or zoning permits for medical marijuana dispensaries or producers in Essex. Medical marijuana became legal in Connecticut on June 1, 2012.
“You had a moratorium years ago when medical marijuana was proposed,” said Kern. “That moratorium expired, and I am suggesting that that section be replaced with a permanent ban as other towns, some other towns have already done.”
After setting a public hearing date for the application, zoning officials discussed drafting a text amendment for a moratorium on applications relating to cannabis establishments, for both production and distribution.
Zoning officials plan to receive the text amendment for a moratorium at its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5, which is when a public hearing date will be set.
Essex is one of several towns in Connecticut considering its options after the possession, use, and cultivation of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older became legal in Connecticut as of July 1. Retail sales are expected to start in late 2022.
The new law allows towns like Essex to regulate cannabis businesses through local zoning regulations and ordinances.
For towns with up to 25,000 residents, the law allows one retailer and one “micro-cultivator,” or licensed cannabis grower, although this could change after July 1, 2024.
“We previously discussed taking no action, which I was kind of okay with,” said PZC member Robert Day. “I would be more in favor of a 12-month moratorium than I would be an all-out ban.”
Vice Chair Jane Siris said a temporary moratorium, even for six months, which is what is being done in Durham and Middlefield, could have its benefits.
“It’s possible that we’ll see that some of the towns that have allowed it don’t have a problem at all,” said Siris.
An alternate on the PZC, David Rosengren said that for him, there is a “big public policy question looming here, and I’d like to think about it, and that is where are we going to allow these things in the overall picture of the state, okay, and in what communities?”
Rosengren discussed the possibility of having cannabis establishments limited to certain areas, or communities, in the state.
“So, I’d like to think long and hard about where we come down on [the question], ‘Is this something, you know, we just don’t do in Essex? Because we don’t do this in Essex?’” said Rosengren. “As opposed to ending it up in, guess where it’s going to end up? In the poorer communities.
“Doing the same old thing we’ve done for 100 years now, which is to push all our problems onto people who don’t deserve to have all of those problems pushed on them,” Rosengren continued.
Commission members discussed how they viewed cannabis establishments in Essex as a positive and that a moratorium would provide them more time to analyze different factors, like location and parking for these establishments.
“This is not going to be some plague on our town,” said Day, naming a town in Massachusetts that sees an influx of visitors to purchase cannabis.
“If people want to come to Essex and go out to the Gris and for a train ride and go to the dispenser, more power to them from an economic perspective,” Day continued.
Carey Duques, Essex’s land use official, added, “I want to educate the commission and give you as many tools or make you aware of the tools that you have available to you. Because doing nothing is an option, but if we do nothing and then an application comes in, then from my perspective it would be treated as retail.”
“I think a moratorium makes sense,” member Mark Reeves said. “We just need some time. We’re not denying it. It’s not a social statement about other parts of the state. It’s just for the Town of Essex, where do we want it?”
Kern’s proposed text amendment is available in the PZC section of the town’s website essexct.gov under Agendas for the Sept. 7 meeting.