Cromwell bans use of cannabis on public land

CROMWELL – While no one from the public attended last week’s council hearing on banning the use of cannabis on town property, municipal leaders say they believe the community supports the measure.

No members of the public attended last week’s council hearing on prohibiting the use of cannabis on public property, and local leaders saw that as a sign that residents support the measure.

The ordinance, approved unanimously Wednesday night, also includes a ban on tobacco use on public land, Town Manager Anthony Salvatore said. He “carved out” an exception for use on public right of ways on “improved” – or paved – roads.

Connecticut became the 19th state in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana last June.

Connecticut DUI laws already prohibit the use of alcohol or other drugs in motor vehicles, Salvatore said.

“I didn’t want to get into an argument: ‘So-and-so is smoking and walking down the sidewalk’ or ‘smoking tobacco products,'” he said.

Salvatore said most of the feedback he’s received supports the ban. “A lot already thought you couldn’t smoke in parks, so they’re not surprised,” he said.

During the Dec. 8 council meeting, Salvatore said he’s not in favor of marijuana use, but believes Cromwell would lose out on a 3 percent sales tax with surrounding communities allowing retail sales.

A recommendation was made to the Cromwell Planning and Zoning Commission to consider limiting cannabis establishments to highway business and industrial zones, and prohibiting its use in residential, mixed-use or mixed-use commercial residential zones.

Councilman James Demetriades solicited public comment on his Facebook page ahead of the meeting. He said the consensus was the ban “makes sense.”

If approved the ordinance would mean a marijuana dispensary would not be able to sell products at the Cromwell Farmers Market, for example, since it’s located on town property, the councilman explained.

The prohibition, however, does not extend to commercial properties, an issue that will have to be taken up later by members of the zoning commission, Demetriades said.

When the state legalized recreational use of marijuana, the legislation was “married to” tobacco use as well, the councilman added. “If you ban one, you have to ban the other. You can’t ban marijuana at the exclusion of tobacco.”

For instance, lighting up a cigarette or using cannabis at a football game are now both illegal, he said.

Without the right-of-way language, the prohibition “would, in effect, ban people from smoking on sidewalks or in their vehicles while they’re driving on town roads,” Demetriades said.

Of course, smoking or vaping marijuana while operating a vehicle is illegal, he said.

Youth Services Administrator Katelynn Kelly Puorro sent a letter to the council in support of the prohibition, voicing concerns surrounding second-hand smoke, Demetriades said.

“They had pointed out some preliminary studies about vaping health and vaping exhaust as well.”

At the prior council meeting, members voted unanimously to permit recreational dispensaries and all sales of cannabis-type substances in town, Salvatore said. That measure will eventually go to the Planning and Zoning Commission and then the planning and development office to craft related regulations.

Municipalities across Connecticut have taken similar measures, such as Middletown, where leaders approved the cultivation and sale of marijuana in August.

Cassandra Day