As CT considers legalizing recreational marijuana, Old Saybrook weighs local regulations

OLD SAYBROOK – As state lawmakers take a hard look at legalizing recreational marijuana, local officials are starting to prepare how to regulate its sale and use in town.

“If it’s going to be legalized, we have to try and protect the kids,” said Mike Rafferty, chairman of the Youth & Family Services Commission.

During this week’s Board of Selectman meeting, selectmen and Youth and Family Services officials discussed ways the town could regulate and control where and how marijuana is sold in Old Saybrook – if it becomes legal for recreational use.

Youth and Family Services Director Heather McNeil said youth prevention specialists are concerned about how marijuana use impacts brain and lung development in people under 25. She said local municipalities can restrict where businesses can grow, store, transport and sell marijuana and its products.

“You can also put constraints on products and potency, and things that can influence the impact this can have on the community,” she said.

First Selectman Carl Fortuna said he believes the proposed bill, which elected officials admit remains “a work in progress,” will likely become law.

McNeil’s presentation to the board focused primarily on the ways the town could curtail marijuana commercialization in Old Saybrook. She also spoke to regulating retail sales, potency limits of extracts and edibles, and child-resistant packaging to avoid accidental ingestion.

“We’re really advocating hard to put up some local controls that will delay the process,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s inevitable. I do think that, in my field, we are beyond the advocating for it not to happen, and putting ourselves in a position of prevention of spread and really drilling down into youth prevention topics.”

McNeil recommended buffer zones of 1,000 feet around schools, day care centers, parks, libraries, churches and drug treatment facilities. She also said Youth and Family Services would include municipal buildings in that list. She also said municipalities should limit signage and advertising.

“On Main Street, would we want, potentially, a pot leaf flag hanging out there?” she asked. “I mean no disrespect to the store and those store owners. I don’t know who they are, but that is our opinion about what’s happening.”

McNeil said her department hopes the law allows municipalities to control the hours of operation for marijuana dispensaries, the security they require and the minimum age a person has to be to enter them.

“We would like that, prior to getting a state permit, a retailer must receive a local permit,” she said. “So putting some obstacles into the process.”

Rafferty said the town needs to be as restrictive as possible so young people do not have access to it.

Fortuna said he did not know if an outright ban is possible. But he did support controlling where a store could open.

“Maybe restricted to industrial areas, which is a little bit more on the outskirts of town,” he said. “I agree with you on Main Street – it’s not my favorite concept of what Main Street should look like.”

Fortuna said the Zoning Commission should begin considering regulations.

“To see if they want to start discussing if they want to put any limitations on a variety of things in regard to these businesses,” he said.

Fortuna said he would not comment in support or in opposition of the bill, but if marijuana is going to be legal, the town needs to determine how it will be sold here.

“I believe there should be some controls one way or another,” he said.

Josh LaBella