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Friday, July 21 News

Are medical marijuana dispensaries coming to Westport?

WESTPORT — After much delay, medical marijuana dispensaries could soon be allowed to set up shop in town.

An amendment that would permit medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in town — a measure that has been delayed five times by the zoning board — is set to be decided on Thursday.

If passed, pot shops providing palliative care would be constricted to opening in non-residential districts and must be at least 1,000 feet away from any school, public park, public building, public recreation area or place of worship. Katherine Daniel, deputy planning and zoning director, wrote in her April memo to the commission that the text amendment would apply to approximately 60 eligible properties.

The memo went on to say that after holding multiple subcommittee meetings to gauge the public’s opinion, it found: “Westport residents testified that they would like to be able to purchase the medical marijuana products prescribed for them by qualified medical doctors without having to travel to other towns.”

The bill allowing medical marijuana dispensaries was signed in 2012 and the first six dispensary facilities were opened in September of 2014, according to Lora Rae Anderson, state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) communications director.

More Information

Connecticut Medical Marijuana Dispensary Facilities (via CT Department of Consumer Protection)

Arrow Alternative Care, Inc.

92 Weston Street, Unit #16, Hartford, CT 06120

Arrow Alternative Care #2, Inc.

255 West River Road, Milford, CT 06461

Bluepoint Wellness of Connecticut

471 East Main Street, Branford, CT 06405

Caring Nature, LLC

237 East Aurora St,

Waterbury, CT 06708

Compassionate Care Center of Connecticut/D&B Wellness, LLC

4 Garella Road, Bethel, CT 06801

Prime Wellness of Connecticut, LLC

75 John Fitch Boulevard,

South Windsor CT, 06074

Southern CT Wellness & Healing, LLC

318 New Haven Avenue, Milford CT, 06460

Thames Valley Alternative Relief, LLC

1100 Norwich-New London Turnpike, Uncasville, CT 06382

The Healing Corner, Inc.

159 East Main Street, Bristol, CT 06010

The DCP put out a request for application in 2015 and of 17 complete applications, they issued three licenses in January of 2016. The department has yet to issue another request for application.

Requirements for patients to qualify for a medical marijuana certificate are limited to state residents over the age of 18 with medical conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, glaucoma and Parkinson’s Disease. Children under 18 can qualify as patients if they have a select debilitating medical condition such as cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis.

“Often times these are veterans with severe PTSD who are in severe pain,” Anderson said.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is in favor of the amendment being passed because it would set up guidelines and rules if a dispensary owner applies to open up shop in town, “We’ve been relying on our moratorium activity for a number of years,” he said. “I think it’s important that we define what the rules are if someone were to come to the town with the idea of opening a dispensary in town.”

Marpe does have concerns about security. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, banks cannot do business with marijuana dispensaries and they only accept cash, making them vulnerable to robberies.

Chip Stephens, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said that there was not a large public presence at the subcommittee meetings.

“We had multiple meetings at the subcommittee level to find out what the temperature of the town was to allow a dispensary or not. I had anticipated some boisterous meetings and there was no passionate outcry,” he said.

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As a result of low public participation, Stephens said Thursday’s vote will be more “mechanical.”

“It would have been helpful if there was more public participation in the process. All we can deduce from that is that there’s not passion on either side and it’s more of mechanical kind of vote and where to put it and where it’s allowed within the town,” Stephens said.

Even if the amendment gets the OK from the Planning and Zoning Commission, DCP would still have to grant a dispensary facility license to a prospective owner looking to do business in Westport. The DCP has only granted nine licenses and can do so at their own discretion, according to Aaron Romano, a criminal defense attorney and medical marijuana advocate.

“I don’t think they’re (the DCP) planning anytime soon to award new licenses. So whether or not the P & Z approves the amendment, this will not have an immediate effect on the town,” Romano said. “It’s completely at the state’s discretion.”

Romano said this arbitrary license issuing has resulted in adverse effects for patients, effectively creating a monopoly and pricing many patients out of medicine.

“The only people it benefits by creating the monopoly are the people who own the businesses, not the patients. The prices for cannabis in Connecticut are higher than the neighboring states. There are no patient rights to grow at all. And these are people who can’t afford the medicine. I know people going to neighboring states because and the illicit market,” he said.

Anderson said medical marijuana is treated the same way as pharmaceuticals are in Connecticut and are aware of the pricing issue.

“We have heard that the medicine is expensive. We don’t regulate prices. There are four producers and 9 dispensary facilities in the state. They set their prices just like CVS does or a pharmaceutical company does,” Anderson said, adding that she encourages patients who observe price gouging or other issues to file a complaint with her office.

Democrats in the General Assembly are looking to legalize marijuana in order to mitigate their budget woes with the taxation of marijuana sales, the CT Mirror reports.

@chrismmarquette; cmarquette@bcnnew.com

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