Winsted commission weighs in on marijuana ordinance

WINSTED – Since Connecticut took steps to legalize the sale and use of various types of cannabis, including marijuana, towns like Winsted have been examining the impact of welcoming businesses focused on providing those products to their customers, whether they sell it, or grow it themselves.

Members of the Planning & Zoning Commission discussed a draft ordinance change earlier this week and had more questions than answers for some of the concerns, such as how growers or manufacturers would be regulated if such a business were to move into town.

They also tried to understand the state’s plan allowing retail marijuana shops based on population – one for every 25,000 people – and that towns can receive up to 3 percent of a shop’s sales to be used for specific community improvements and programs.

Connecticut announced in early January that on Feb. 3 it will open its first 90-day application period for retailers and disproportionately impacted area cultivators. Application periods for other license types will open on a rolling basis.

The state will also have multiple lotteries on an ongoing basis and will announce the number of licenses available ahead of each round. Dispensaries and producers that are already a part of the medical program will be exempt from the lottery and can apply for hybrid licenses that allow them to participate in both the medical and the recreational markets, under the new state law.

Among the Winsted zoning commissioners this week were new alternate members Charlene Lavoie and Feliks Viner, along with Chairman George Closson, Vice Chairman Craig Sanden, Peter Marchand, Willard Platt and John Cooney.

Winsted has a zoning regulation for a Marijuana Dispensary Facility, and the commission is adding wording for “retail cannabis.” Still River Dispensary on Winsted Road is a medical marijuana provider, which has been open for three years. There are no retail establishments selling marijuana.

“I went through this, and the only thing that’s not in the regulation that I can see is to show what zones you can do certain things in,” Closson said. “I proposed keeping businesses in the town center zone (Main Street), the town gateway (Route 44, Winsted Road) and the industrial/innovation zone (the town’s industrial park).

“We’ve got potential on our Main Street, the huge flexibility of what can be done in the town gateway (area), and innovation zone, in case something comes up with the industrial part (of the cannabis) industry, growing it, things like that,” he said.

Lawmakers gave their final approval for the bill, “An Act Concerning Responsible and Equitable Regulation of Adult-Use Cannabis,” in June 2021, legalizing the sale and cultivation of marijuana for adults over 21. The legislation creates a structure for recreational marijuana markets and eliminates criminal convictions for certain marijuana-based offenses. Adults are allowed to have up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana with them, and up to 5 ounces in a locked container in their home or car’s glove compartment or trunk.

According to the bill, cities and towns can prohibit these businesses through local zoning ordinances, or restrict the location of retail establishments related to schools, churches and hospitals. Residents can also petition for a vote on whether a town should allow them.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Pam Columbie said the town’s existing ordinance doesn’t include growers or manufacturers.

“You can get a license to grow and a license to sell, but if you don’t have a license to transport it you’re done,” Viner said during the board’s discussion. “All the proposed retail and industrial and manufacturing uses for cannabis are regulated by the state.”

The commission is also waiting for the Board of Selectmen to give them guidance on the local ordinance. Closson sent a letter this week to Town Manager Josh Kelly, requesting input and direction from the selectmen.

“We need guidance before we start this (process to have the ordinance approved),” Closson said. “Before we send it to the Council of Governments and the state, we need to hear from them; so far we haven’t. So for now, we can leave the regulation where it is, and make the changes we’ve talked about. Once we hear from the Board of Selectmen, we’ll start the formal process.”

Marchand and the rest of the board agreed. “We need input from the selectmen, to know what their wishes are,” Marchand said.

“We shouldn’t be in the forefront on this, they should,” Closson said. “I’m sure (the selectmen) are going to have a public hearing to discuss the issue. I don’t see us pushing the cart down the street on this one. We’ll put our cannabis file down now, and wait.”

Closson reminded the commission that if the town receives the 3 percent local tax payment, the money’s uses are very specific.

“There’s a Municipal Authority Impact Overview, that shows how the money can be used,” he said. “Right now, it can be used for streetscape improvements where the retail is located, youth employmet and training programs, services and support (for people getting out of prison), mental health and addiction services, and community servies. There are people who think we can put it to our highways and sidewalks, but we can’t.”

Emily M. Olson