Norwalk mulls medical marijuana moratorium

NORWALK — Those wishing to produce medical marijuana or open a licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Norwalk could be waiting for a while.

Following the lead of a number of other communities, the Norwalk Zoning Commission is considering establishing a nine-month moratorium on licensed medical marijuana producers and dispensary facilities.

Norwalk’s zoning regulations currently permit neither the production nor dispensing of medical marijuana.

“Assuming the moratorium is approved, we will spend the next nine months evaluating whether they should be permitted anywhere in Norwalk, and, if they should, try to determine what areas in Norwalk would make sense along with determining what conditions or restrictions would need to be placed on any such facility,” said Zoning Commission Chairman Adam J. Blank. “I expect we will get input from other municipalities in Connecticut and outside it that allow for these types of facilities. Additionally, we will reach out to the Norwalk Police Department for their assistance.”

Blank said the commission wants to make sure that police and the city’s planning and zoning department are “on the same page” on what regulations needs to be in place to allow such businesses to operate safely in Norwalk.

“If we can’t get to an acceptable comfort level then we will continue to ban them in all zones,” Blank said.

In 2012, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing a licensed physician to certify an adult patient’s use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. Among other things, the law requires patients and their primary caregivers to register with the Department of Consumer Protection. It also creates licensing requirements for producers to grow marijuana and for pharmacists (dispensaries) to dispense it.

Since passage of the law, the department has issued requests for applications from those wishing to produce medical marijuana, or open a dispensary facility. The requests are issued based upon the number of patients needing medical marijuana and where they live, said Lora Rae Anderson, a spokeswoman for the department.

“Right now, we don’t have a Request for Application or pending applications,” Anderson said. “There are six (medical marijuana facilities) that are currently open and three in the process of opening.”

The six existing facilities are located in Hartford, Branford, Bethel, South Windsor, Uncasville and Bristol. Two of the three newly approved facilities are in Milford. The third is in Waterbury, according to the Department of Consumer Protection.

Anderson said the department has required that applicants obtain local zoning approval before submitting their applications to the department.

Norwalk would not be the first municipality to consider a moratorium as it sorts through the issue.

In October 2013, the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission placed a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana distribution and production last October to allow officials to mull over the possibility of amending the town’s current zoning regulations.

In January 2014, Stamford’s Zoning Board imposed a yearlong moratorium after the city’s legal department issued an approval permit to Constitution Care LLC to establish a medical marijuana dispensary.

Wilton’s Planning and Zoning Commission also approved a medical marijuana moratorium in February 2014.

Anderson, while noting the some communities have imposed moratoriums, added that others are looking to pass zoning laws to make their towns more friendly to medical marijuana dispensaries and producers.

For now, Norwalk has nothing on its books should the matter arise. And that’s what is driving officials to consider establishing a moratorium.

“We want to establish a moratorium so we can take the time necessary to make an informed decision on the issue without having to rush to action because an application might be filed,” Blank said.

The Zoning Commission had planned to hold a public hearing on the proposed moratorium last Wednesday but postponed it until its July meeting because of the lengthy public hearing on AMEC Carting’s plan for its equipment storage yard in South Norwalk. That hearing lasted until nearly midnight.

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