HAMDEN – A moratorium on cannabis establishments will give Hamden time to develop applicable zoning regulations before the highly anticipated industry comes to town, according to officials.
The Planning & Zoning Commission approved the measure Tuesday, following the recommendation of Mayor Lauren Garrett, who announced she is establishing a task force to draft cannabis-related ordinances.
“The state of Connecticut is going to start issuing (cannabis) licenses in 2022…and then people will be able to apply to the town for cannabis-related uses,” said Timothy Lee, the attorney who advises the commission. “The point of the moratorium is to give the town some additional time to research the cannabis issue and then to prepare zoning regulations regarding its use.”
Without a moratorium or established zoning policies, Garrett said. those seeking cannabis permits from the town would be able to apply for the permit whose use was most similar. For example, someone seeking to grow cannabis might be subject to standard farming regulations, she said.
“Because we don’t have the ordinances in place to regulate the growth, distribution and sale of cannabis, what would happen is it would default to whatever was most similar,” Garrett said. “We don’t want to issue permits until they are specific in cannabis.”
On July 1, recreational marijuana for people 21 and older became legal in Connecticut, thanks to a bill Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law on June 22.
The state expects to start accepting cannabis business licensing applications early next year, according to Kaitlyn Krasselt, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.
“We expect it to be in early 2022, but the Social Equity Council needs to vote one more time on the income and residency requirements,” she said.
The council “was developed in order to make sure the adult-use cannabis program is grown equitably, and ensures that funds from the adult-use cannabis program are brought back to the communities hit hardest by the ‘war on drugs,'” according to the state website.
Its tasks include determining what income and residency requirements give applicants social equity status. Under state law, half of all licenses issued through a lottery must go to social equity applicants.
Once the council issues “that final approval, then it will be 30 days after that that applications will start to be available,” Krasselt said.
So far, at least 35 Connecticut municipalities have enacted moratoriums on cannabis establishments, according to the state website, which shows 13 towns have outright prohibited them. Meanwhile, nine municipalities have approved related regulations, the data indicates.
The list may not be comprehensive because it incorporates only what is reported to the state, Krasselt cautioned.
In Hamden, Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning Commission debate primarily centered around whether the moratorium should last six months, as the administration suggested, or a year.
Advocates for the longer duration like commission member Joseph McDonagh said it would prevent the commission from having to extend the moratorium, ensuing the town has enough time to draft regulations.
Extending moratoriums has proved a hassle in the past, according to McDonagh.
“We had a moratorium on multifamily because we were trying to figure out how to deal with affordable housing,” he said. “It took us more than six months. We had to extend the moratorium, and we had all sorts of very angry developers.”
Others on the commission expressed concern that the process would take too long if the moratorium lasted a year.
“I would not support a one-year moratorium because I think that that would just put us way too far behind any sort of market on this,” Paul Begemann, a commission member, said during the meeting.
McDonagh told the New Haven Register he was not asserting the process would take a year. But if it takes longer than six months, he said, a one-year moratorium saves the commission from having to extend it.
At the meeting, he said it would be easier to end the moratorium early than to extend it, and his view won out.
Hamden’s next step is to convene a task force that will advise the commission on which regulations it should adopt.
The panel will include two members of the Planning & Zoning Commission, two members of the Legislative Council, one police department representative and four mayoral appointees, according to a release from the mayor’s office.