Friday, May 20, 2022

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Guilford to Seek Public Input on Cannabis Sales and Growing Ordinance

The Board of Selectman (BOS) last week inched forward on tentative steps on retail sale of cannabis, which will be lawful this June, beginning discussions with a community engagement firm to get a read on the sentiments of people who live or own businesses in town.

The town placed a temporary moratorium on retail sales at the end of October to allow town officials time to consider the impact.

First Selectmen Matt Hoey said the temporary moratorium was essential to make sure that residents’ concerns would be taken into account.

“We felt the most prudent course of action was to put in place a temporary moratorium until June of 2022 relative to the establishment of cannabis sales and facilities—sales, production, distribution, really all aspects of the sale of cannabis.”

There are more than just retail sales under consideration. There are numerous ways to legally ingest THC, the primary component of marijuana, including tinctures, oils, edibles, and vapes as well as the standard, smoking, which presents issues for retail sales. The town also will consider the impact of businesses that might want to grow and harvest marijuana in town.

“It’s absolutely a comprehensive issue. At the time we enacted this, the [BOS] did not feel comfortable making a go, no-go decision without getting input from the community and engaging the community in these discussions,” said Hoey. “At this point, we are anticipating...public forums as a means to do this. In fact, the BOS just took some action—we had used a social media and analytics company for several other projects in the past, ZenCity, and the board approved the use of them to conduct some polling to determine the community sentiment relative to cannabis.

“That was approved and we will certainly being using that data. They utilize some pretty interesting tools and this is intended to inform the board,” he continued. “This will help us capture public sentiment in a way that we would not normally get.”

Several town entities, including Youth & Family Services and the Guilford DAY Foundation, have expressed deep concerns over the legalization of cannabis in the state, and the potential effect on the youth of Guilford. Hoey said this is only one reason why public input and consensus will be critical to any decisions made concerning legal cannabis.

“They have reached out to both [Superintendent of Schools] Dr. [Paul] Freeman and myself and some other community leaders and perhaps some faith-based leaders about a forum they want to put together highlighting the danger to kids that marijuana [poses] and on how the use affects brain development,” Hoey said.

A firm date has not yet been set as of yet and Hoey says it is likely to be a virtual event, adding that the goal is to have the town initiate discussions soon.

“We have talked about some preliminary plans for some kind of session, a community engagement forum, at the end of January or the early part of February on this,” Hoey said.

With Guilford’s long agricultural heritage, especially in the northern section of town, officials said they would not be surprised if they receive numerous applications for a license to grow and harvest marijuana.

“I’m going to keep my personal feelings aside on this. But we all do have some concerns on this,” said Hoey.

According to Hoey, town officials might move forward with an ordinance, encoding any regulation, instead of relying solely upon zoning.

“The reason why we want to do this via an ordinance, rather than a zoning code, which some other towns are doing, is that I have some reluctance to use the zoning code for social engineering. That was one of my concerns and why we want to do it via ordinance,” Hoey said. “While we fully understand the risk to youth, all substances are a risk to youth, not just marijuana.”



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