It’s ‘Wait and See’ in Westbrook for Retail Cannabis Zoning
Westbrook officials will take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to possible changes to the zoning regulations related to marijuana retail.
Earlier this summer Connecticut legislators passed a bill that legalized recreational marijuana use by adults in the state. Now, it’s up to local municipalities to interpret what regulations will be enacted to control the possibility of a store opening for marijuana retail.
Westbrook Zoning Enforcement Officer Eric Knapp said that Westbrook’s Zoning Commission can take its time on deciding what to do before enacting any policy.
“The Zoning Commission is taking a wait-and-see attitude right now. If we were to do something, it would involve changing the regulations, which would require a public hearing,” Knapp told the Harbor News.
All three towns covered by the Harbor News—Westbrook, Old Saybrook, and Clinton—have all in recent weeks had their zoning commission discuss marijuana retail regulations. All three towns have also taken different approaches. In Clinton, that town’s Planning & Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing in September over proposed changes in the zoning regulations that would allow for retail cannabis operations by special exception in some of the business districts in town.
Consultant planner John Guszkowski said that the proposed regulations would follow “the same guidelines and restrictions that we currently have for package stores. This would include the separating distances from the retail to churches, schools, etc.”
In Old Saybrook, that town’s Zoning Commission said it will likely take up the issue, but noted that as outlined in the bill passed by the state, that permits for a retail marijuana store won’t be issued until spring 2022 so the commission has no need to act quickly on the issue. That commission has said it will wait to get more feedback from community stakeholders before moving forward.
In Westbrook, the Zoning Commission is following Old Saybrook’s lead of waiting to see what happens before acting.
“Clinton used the sales of liquor as a model for where they want the sales to be located. Westbrook does not similarly try and limit liquor sales by location (i.e., not within 500 feet of a church or a school, we do limit sales, like any retail use, to commercial zones), so we will not be taking that path,” Knapp wrote in an email.
At the commission meeting on June 28, Knapp briefly informed the commission that it may want to take a look at the zoning regulations, but pointed out that with no permits coming until 2022 there was time to wait.
In an email Knapp said that while Clinton used a regulations subcommittee to recommend its regulation changes, Westbrook would probably not follow suit.
“I don’t see a subcommittee set up for this. The commission has proven pretty able to operate by consensus in these situations. There has just not been any decision made yet,” Knapp said.
Any regulations related to the sale of marijuana in Westbrook are likely to be controversial. While there is a contingent that will be concerned if not outright opposed to any regulations that would allow for a marijuana retail store to open, there are also people who are in favor of allowing the sale in town.
Proponents of allowing the sale in town argue the substance is less harmful than other already legal substances, it could have economic benefits, and that it could arguably be safer to have a store than relying on dealers.
Under the bill passed by the legislature, there can only be one marijuana retail location per 25,000 people. This means only one store would be able to open in Westbrook. Additionally, it would be possible for the commission to allow a marijuana retail store to open and place parameters on any such business.
For example, adult entertainment (like a strip club) is currently allowed in town but only by special permit in the industrial district.
Knapp cautioned that it was still too early to tell how the commission will act, but floated the possibility that the commission may not make any changes to the regulations since currently only one store would be allowed to open.
“Well, there is some sentiment that, for a maximum of one store, it is not worth making changes. There is also a sense that, since we can’t stop deliveries, people in Westbrook will find ways to obtain pot, whether we have retail sales or not. So, I think there is a sense of inevitability. How the commission chooses to react to this is still an open question. They may do something. They may do nothing,” Knapp said.
The next zoning commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 23. The agenda at press time does not include any discussions related to marijuana retail.