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Wednesday, October 16 News

Westport RTM denies proposed pot ban

WESTPORT — By a 16-18 vote, the Representative Town Meeting rejected a proposed ordinance that would prohibit any businesses in town from selling marijuana for recreational use, should the state legalize it.

The ordinance, proposed by RTM members Greg Kraut and Jimmy Izzo earlier this year, aimed to give Westport time to fully assess the effects of marijuana legalization. Had the ban been approved early Wednesday morning, it would’ve been in effect for two years starting immediately once the state legalized recreational marijuana use.

“No matter what position you take on recreational marijuana, there are some serious negative trend lines that are concerning,” Kraut said during his presentation before the RTM. “For that reason we believe a two-year pause is necessary.”

Kraut said the potency of THC found in marijuana has dramatically increased compared to what was seen in the past. With marijuana products with labeling like “Brown Scout,” and “Sour Apples,” he said it’s also clear how industries have targeted the youth.

“This is very potent and very dangerous, and with names appealing specifically to very young people,” he said.

According to Kraut in states were recreational marijuana usage was legal, the first facilities to make the switch were those that started as medical marijuana facilities. Westport currently only has one medical marijuana facility — Bluepoint Wellness of Westport. In January, a large stake in the shop was bought by Chicago-based company Green Thumb Industries, a national player in the medical and recreational marijuana business.

“In Westport we’re proactive, we do the right thing,” Kraut said. “We’re leaders in protecting the environment. Now let’s be leaders in protecting our community.”

However, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he believes recreational marijuana in Connecticut is inevitable due to surrounding states making efforts to make it legal.

“Having said that, I have opposed recreational marijuana legislation for several years,” Steinberg said. “As chair of the Public Health Committee, I remain concern about the lack of attention to the mental health and addiction impacts, and the lack of requisite funding to address the problem this legislation could create.”

Despite his stance, Steinberg noted the ordinance would be made ineffective once the state implements a law for recreational pot.

“This ordinance will not accomplish what it’s set out to do,” he said. “Anybody that believes that by voting for this ordinance that you will accomplish anything in the state of Connecticut or for the people of Westport, you are sadly mistaken.”

Steinberg shared the ordinance with the General Assembly’s Judiciary and General Law Committees, as well as lawyers for the legislatures.

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“The fundamental flaw in this ordinance is that it is triggered upon the day in which recreational marijuana is passed and effectively legalizing marijuana,” Steinberg said. “A municipality cannot institute criminal penalties that are in conflict with state law. The state law preempts such an ordinance.”

Several RTM members still voiced their support for the ordinance, with many saying at the least it could be sending a message to the state and the youth. Some said amendments could later be added if necessary. First Selectman Jim Marpe also noted his office received 200 emails within the past 48 hours supporting the ordinance.

However, Staples High School student Jack McCarthy said the 200 emails represented a loud minority.

“There’s more than 200 people in this town who have opinions on this matter, or care about this,” he said.

He added the people who would be restricted by the ordinance would largely be adults who did not have the same avenues kids may have to access marijuana. According to McCarthy, the ban would not be able to address the proliferation of marijuana in the schools.

“If you think you’re preventing any teen from getting pot or smoking weed, you’re not,” he said. “It’s already there.”

RTM member Matthew Mandell said while he commended the proposed ordinance for starting a community discussion, he couldn’t support it.

“I can’t support this at this time. I am a legislator,” he said. “I can’t tell my constituents that we’ve passed something that may be completely ineffective.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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