BOS Is Inclined to Put Marijuana Decisions to Town Voters

On June 22, Connecticut joined the growing list of states to legalize recreational use of marijuana and consumable cannabis products.

As reported in GMW‘s two-part series on the subject, the complex new law went into effect in Connecticut on July 1, leaving town officials and law enforcement little time to understand the many details of its implementation.

The Board of Selectmen (BOS) began to wrestle with some of those key questions at Tuesday night’s July 20 meeting, after receiving legal guidance from the town’s legal advisors at Berchem Moses PC explaining various aspects of Wilton’s municipal authority, which includes:

  • Regulation by Referendum

Upon petition by at least 10% of Wilton’s registered voters, Wilton could put the matter to a vote as to whether to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana within Wilton, or to limit the sale to certain types of merchants.

  • Zoning Regulation or Local Ordinance 

Wilton could also amend its zoning regulations or pass a local ordinance to specifically prohibit cannabis establishments or reasonably restrict their hours, signage or location (proximity to churches, schools, or other locations).

Importantly, given the town’s population is under 25,000, Wilton may only have one retailer and one micro-cultivator (the smaller of two types of growing operations), until at least June 30, 2024. (After that date, the density cap may be changed.)

Wilton may not prohibit the delivery of cannabis products within the town.

  • Regulation of Cannabis Use on Municipal Property 

Effective Oct. 1, Wilton may prohibit smoking or vaping of cannabis on property owned or controlled by the town (as with tobacco, although Wilton does not currently have such an ordinance) and in the outdoor sections of a restaurant.

Vanderslice opened the floor for discussion by posing the key question, “Do we want to…” either restrict or prohibit cannabis businesses or the places where residents may use cannabis products?

Fundamentally, the BOS must decide whether it wants to take proactive action (as some other town governments, like Newtown and Ridgefield, have already done); pass the matter to P&Z to see what, if any, action it might take; or put the matters to a Special Town Meeting for a vote.

The clear consensus was to let voters decide, in a Special Town Meeting.

“My gut tells me we should do it by Special Town Meeting,” said Vanderslice. “That’s how we’ve always done issues around alcohol.”

“I like the idea of citizen participation,” said Selectwoman Deb McFadden. “I do like the idea of having the residents have a say in what they’d like to see happen here in Wilton. The right thing to do is to let citizens have a conversation about [it].”

“We need citizen engagement on the issue,” said Selectman Joshua Cole. “My personal view is, I don’t think there’s anything to be gained for [Wilton] economically from it. That’s not the draw we want [Wilton] to have. But we need to hear from the public.”

Selectwoman Lori Bufano said she was in agreement with Cole.

Ross Tartell was less decisive on whether a Town Meeting was preferable to a BOS-driven ordinance, but did conclude that “voter input is critical.”

Given the consensus, Vanderslice indicated the BOS would begin preparations to bring the questions to an October Special Town Meeting. Information sessions, with input from police, social services, etc. would precede the vote.

Vanderslice held out the possibility that action may be needed before the October timeframe, if prompted by public reaction or if any new issues develop.