BOS and P&Z Deal With Cannabis on Two Parallel Tracks

Since the passage of Connecticut’s new recreational marijuana law on June 22, Wilton’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) and Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) have been keeping an eye on emerging details of the legislation’s complex rollout and what the new law will mean for the town.

As GOOD Morning Wilton has reported, the BOS was recently briefed by town counsel about the town’s authority to regulate cannabis businesses within Wilton’s borders.

At the Aug. 2 BOS meeting, the board learned that, despite its desire to put the matter to a town vote, the BOS does not have the authority to put such local questions on the November municipal ballot.

The other avenue Wilton could take would be an adjourned vote following a special Town Meeting. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice told GMW it would be unrealistic to hold a special Town Meeting within a short timeframe of the November election. As a result, she said, “The earliest we [could] have a special Town Meeting is January.”

At last night’s Aug. 17 BOS meeting, Vanderslice further discussed the January option.

Coincidentally, that timing would also work for a Town Meeting on the matter of the police headquarters building project. She told the board that the project’s pricing and other final details are in the process of being fine-tuned.

“If we’re going to have a special [Town] Meeting in January, we really need to be talking about [plans] in October/November,” Vanderslice told the board. “And we can decide at that point if we want to put in the question about cannabis.”

P&Z Takes a Parallel Track

The new cannabis law gives Wilton the authority to regulate cannabis establishments through zoning regulations. P&Z’s authority includes allowing or prohibiting any or all of the various types of cannabis “establishments” in Wilton, or restricting their hours, signage or locations.

The new law defines 11 different types of cannabis establishments which will be licensed by the state. They include retailers; various types of cultivators (growing operations, categorized by size); food, beverage and other product manufacturers; and packaging, delivery and transport companies. (See definitions at the bottom of the story.)

Monday’s Aug. 16 P&Z meeting revealed just how unclear many aspects of the new law are. As one example, commissioners wondered aloud whether existing medical marijuana dispensaries would begin selling recreational pot.

The fact is that medical marijuana dispensaries, as defined under CT’s earlier statutes, won’t necessarily change. However, the new law does create a new license type called a “hybrid retailer,” which would provide medical marijuana and sell recreational marijuana.

As another example of uncertainty around the law’s rollout, Town Planner Michael Wrinn told the commission that the details of the application process for the various licenses have yet to be announced by the state, and aren’t likely to be resolved until spring. (The only thing that is certain is that 50% of the applications for each license type will be reserved for Social Equity Applicants. The rest will be determined by lottery, if there are more applications than licenses.)

With all that uncertainty, Wrinn felt action by P&Z was warranted. He said, “Until we can get our hands around what this actually means, to figure out what are we going to see with traffic, what are we going to see with security, how it’s all going to work… I’m making the recommendation that we go to a Public Hearing with a [proposed] moratorium on it.”

That was also an option presented by town counsel. Nicholas Bamonte, an attorney with the town’s law firm Bercham Moses, has told Wilton officials that several nearby towns have chosen to sidestep potential controversy in the near term by issuing a moratorium — or a temporary zoning regulation akin to a moratorium — that would effectively prevent establishments from operating in their towns for anywhere from six months to two years.

Wrinn also suggested that the actions taken by nearby towns puts even more pressure on Wilton to do so. He asked the commission to consider, “If everyone around us has a moratorium and we do not, will [Wilton] become the target for a facility?”

Wrinn told the commission, “I really think we have to look at it from a zoning viewpoint. We’ve been advised [by town counsel] this [moratorium] is probably the best way to do it, and try to get some answers before we have a problem.”

Wrinn also reminded the commission that the state law very clearly gives municipalities the authority to regulate the businesses through local zoning. “So it’s not that we’re making this up on the fly,” he said.

P&Z Commission Chair Rick Tomasetti noted that some cannabis establishments, like indoor cultivation businesses, could be big businesses but would not necessarily have the same impact on the community as a retail store — suggesting the possibility that Wilton’s regulatory approach could differ depending on the type of establishment.

Residents can look for details of the upcoming public hearing about a possible zoning moratorium on the town website in September. Specific instructions for participating in the hearing, whether in writing or in real-time during a hearing, will be included in the public hearing notice. Generally, those instructions include sending an email to Wrinn well in advance. The email must include the sender’s full name, address, and the public hearing matter of interest.

The Petition Factor

While the BOS lacks the authority to put cannabis questions on the November ballot, town residents could take matters into their own hands to get questions in front of voters — but only with a properly filed petition. To qualify, a petition must be signed by at least 10% of Wilton’s registered voters, and the petition is filed at least 60 days prior to the Nov. 2 election.

That 60-day deadline is rapidly approaching, on Sept. 2.

The ballot designations would only decide the broad questions as to whether the sale of recreational marijuana (or certain types of licenses) would be allowed or prohibited in Wilton.

Here is an abbreviated set of definitions under the new cannabis law for the 11 types of cannabis establishments:

Producer: licensed to obtain cannabis, extract and manufacture products exclusive to such license type

Dispensary facility: a place of business where cannabis  may be dispensed, sold or distributed in accordance with chapter 420f of the general statutes and any regulations adopted thereunder, to qualifying patients and caregivers, and to which the department has issued a dispensary facility license

Cultivator: licensed to engage in the cultivation, growing and propagation of the cannabis plant at an establishment with not less than fifteen thousand square feet of grow space*

Micro-cultivator: licensed to engage in the cultivation, growing and propagation of the cannabis plant at an establishment containing not less than two thousand square feet and not more than ten thousand square feet of grow space*

Retailer: excluding a dispensary facility and hybrid retailer, that is licensed to purchase cannabis from producers, cultivators, micro-cultivators, product manufacturers and food and beverage manufacturers and to sell cannabis to consumers and research programs

Hybrid retailer: licensed to purchase cannabis and sell cannabis and medical marijuana products

Food and beverage manufacturer: place of business that acquires cannabis and creates food and beverages

Product manufacturer: licensed to obtain cannabis, extract and manufacture products exclusive to such license type

Product packager: licensed to package and label cannabis

Delivery service: licensed to deliver cannabis from (A) micro-cultivators, retailers and hybrid retailers to consumers and research program subjects, and (B) hybrid retailers and dispensary facilities to qualifying patients, caregivers and research program subjects, as defined in section 21a-408 of the general statutes, or to hospices or other inpatient care facilities licensed by the Department of Public Health pursuant to chapter 368v of the general statutes that have a protocol for the handling and distribution of cannabis that has been approved by the department, or a combination thereof

Transporter: licensed to transport cannabis between cannabis establishments, laboratories and research programs

* “Grow space” means the portion of premises owned and controlled by a producer, cultivator or micro-cultivator that is utilized for the cultivation, growing or propagation of the cannabis plant, and contains cannabis plants in an active stage of growth, measured starting from the outermost wall of the room containing cannabis plants and continuing around the outside of the room. “Grow space” does not include space used to cure, process, store harvested cannabis or manufacture cannabis once the cannabis has been harvested.