Branford to Enact 12-Month Moratorium on Recreational Retail Cannabis Applications
Effective December 24, Branford is enacting a 12-month moratorium on applications and approvals for recreational retail cannabis establishments in town, as defined by the state's Public Act 21-1. The new state law went into effect July 1, 2021 and legalizes adult recreational cannabis use and retail sales. The state's Department of Consumer Protection will allow recreational sales in CT to begin sometime in late 2022.
Branford's moratorium enactment is the result of a unanimous vote of the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) at its Dec. 9 meeting. As summarized by Town Planner Harry Smith on Dec. 9, the moratorium period will provide the commission the time necessary to complete the process of revising/creating new zoning regulations.
"I'll also say the legislation that was adopted is over 300 pages in length," said Smith. "We're constantly getting new reports of what towns are doing; those towns that are in the process, or have established regulations, to allow some or all of the cannabis establishments created categorically by the state statute."
If Branford's regulations are created and approved before the end of the 12-month period, the PZC can rescind the moratorium ahead of its 12-month deadline.
However, "If we do nothing, if we don't do this, it's allowed where retail is allowed. So we should have a freeze on the record," said PZC chair Chuck Andres, speaking to the commission Dec. 9.
The new state law currently allows for one retail establishment and one micro-cultivator for each 25,000 residents in any town until June 30, 2024. After that, state regulators will set a new maximum which could increase the number of retailers allowed in a municipality.
Beginning on Sept. 1, 2021, the law has also allowed for existing medical marijuana dispensaries in municipalities to apply to convert their licenses to a "hybrid retail" license. The hybrid license allows the dispensary to continue the sales of medical marijuana and offer the expanded service of cannabis to the adult-use (age 21 and over) recreational market. Branford's dispensary, Blue Point Wellness CT, located at 471 E Main St., could apply to obtain a hybrid retail license. The dispensary was approved by the PZC in 2013, the same year medical marijuana dispensaries were legalized in CT.
Blue Point's founder, Nick Tamborrino, brought his comments to the PZC during a public hearing on the moratorium at the Dec. 9 meeting. Noting his was one of the state's first dispensaries, Tamborrino also pointed out he had received unanimous approval from the Branford PZC 8 years ago to bring the dispensary to town.
"Back then, I assured the committee [sic] I was going to bring one of Connecticut's first medical marijuana dispensaries to Branford in a safe and professional environment for patients and the community," said Tamborrino. "Throughout the years of operating Blue Point, we've built great relationships with business neighbors, the police department, and I believe the overall town. We have a proven track record operating in town since 2014 without any issues. The Department of Consumer Protection will allow recreational sales in Connecticut sometime in late 2022. They are allowing one retail outlet per 25,000 residents, which means Branford would only be allowed one. We can convert our license to allow both medical and recreational sales if the town permits its use."
With regard to the PZC's moratorium vote, Tamborrino said, "...I'm not here tonight to agree or disagree with the town's moratorium. Instead, I'm here to assure the committee [sic] that if or when Blue Point becomes a hybrid retailer, we will always be committed to operating the business in a professional and safe manner. When the time comes for a decision, I hope you'd consider Blue Point to be first in line based on our ongoing success and commitment to the town."
The only additional public comment on the moratorium was from attorney Patricia Sullivan of Cohen and Wolf (Bridgeport, Danbury, Westport) which represents Blue Point Wellness. She noted she had a conversation in the past week with the Town Planner to offer "our expertise."
"I just want you know we're here with our expertise if you need our help. And as Nick just said, we'd like the opportunity to be able to come in with the hybrid; and we're at your service," Sullivan told the PZC.
The public hearing was then closed.
Later in the meeting, ahead of a motion for the moratorium vote, commissioner Massimo Liguori reiterated other commissioners' comments that the PZC needed to carefully study the matter ahead of crafting zoning text regarding future recreational retail cannabis operations in Branford. Liguori said stringent oversight by the Town's attorneys was especially important to avoid loopholes coming to light in some other states which already allow recreational cannabis retail establishments, creating excessive locations and related uses such as marijuana bars.
"I think we need to see how different states run their programs. I was in Nashville, Tennessee, and there are loopholes in the system [the] attorneys can point out," said Liguori, describing the number of vendors he'd seen in Nashville as,"...they have vendors on every corner, like hot dog stands."
Liguori also showed some of the other commissioners images on his phone depicting the prevalence of vendors he'd seen in Nashville TN.
"So I think our attorneys really need to look at how to prevent certain loopholes," said Liguori. "[In] Nashville, Tennessee, they were able to get a bunch of loopholes, and they have vendors on every corner [and] there's nothing that town or state can do about it, because the loopholes exist."
Zip06/The Sound checked TN news sites and while sales of recreational marijuana remain illegal in the state, the legal sale of hemp products has been allowed since December 2018, when the federal Hemp Farming Act was signed into law, removing hemp (defined as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC) from Schedule I controlled substances and making it an ordinary agricultural commodity.
More recently, TN has been experiencing an exponential growth in retail sales of hemp products containing a minor cannabinoid, Delta 8 THC. While hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, marijuana produces an abundance of the brain-receptive substance tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC; which is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. By comparison, industrial hemp produces an abundance of non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), and only a trace amount of THC.
Delta 8 THC, which must by law contain less than .03 percent THC, provides a mild high when smoked or ingested, according to news reports. To date, its products have not been evaluated or approved by the Federal Drug Administration for safe use. Since October 2021, more than 16 states, some which include legalized sales of marijuana, have banned sales of Delta 8 THC products.