Middletown Approves Rules Allowing Marijuana Cultivation and Sale

MIDDLETOWN – The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday approved regulations that would allow the cultivation and sale of marijuana in Middletown, without taking action on the commission chair’s proposal to allow cultivation in residential zones that currently allow farming.

The regulations approved by the commission allow “micro-cultivation” in three of the city’s four industrial zones – not including the I-3 zone that sits along the Connecticut River – its Interstate Trade zone along I-91, and its transitional development and industrial redevelopment zones.

The commission also approved allowing marijuana retail sales in the city’s general business district – which is along retail corridors on Washington Street, South Main Street and Saybrook Road, but not downtown – and in the Newfield Street Corridor, along Newfield north of Congdon Street.

The commission approved the regulations by a vote of 6-1, with Commissioner Catherine Johnson the only “no” vote. Johnson urged the commission to table the discussion to allow more time to consider the regulations and to solicit feedback from the public. Other members of the commission cited economic development and openness to new businesses for their “yes” votes.

No one from the public spoke at the public hearing on Wednesday, or at the commission’s last meeting on July 28. City Planner Marek Kozikowski said the city had not received any public comments regarding the application, aside from inquiries regarding if and when Middletown will  allow cultivation and sale of marijuana.

“We need input from the public, but there’s not much public opposition to this – as you can see,” Commission Vice Chair Nicholas Fazzino said. “As a P&Z commission, I think we have to look beyond the horizon and see that we have to take this on as a business-related objective, and not spoil our grand list to other communities.”

Middletown is allowed only one cultivation and one dispensary license under the state statutes that legalized adult use of marijuana this year – though Kozikowski said that could be re-evaluated by the state in 2024. Either a cultivation or retail facility would need to have the commission approve a special exception under the city’s regulations.

Is the cultivation of marijuana agriculture?

Commission Chair Stephen DeVoto proposed expanding the cultivation regulations to allow growing marijuana in several of the town’s residential zones – R-15, 30, 45, 60 and Residential Pre Zoning, which cover most of the land in Middletown.

DeVoto said those zones all allow agricultural uses. While the state does not consider marijuana cultivation agriculture, DeVoto said the “growing of a plant under highly controlled conditions … exactly describes farming.” DeVoto said that allowing cultivation in those zones would give people who already have expertise in growing plants the opportunity to grow marijuana for commercial sale.

“We allow in those zones greenhouses up to 5,000 square feet without a special exception, and more with a special exception. We allow 2,000 square foot buildings that serve as [horse] riding arenas. We allow both of those things in residential zones,” DeVoto said.

The regulations approved for “micro-cultivation” allow between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet of grow space – which could be expanded to 25,000 square feet if the state eventually extends rules on marijuana cultivation.

Commission member James O’Connell said he didn’t think marijuana cultivation was the equivalent of farming, and that it was inappropriate in a residential zone. Other commission members asked for more time to review DeVoto’s proposal. 

Kozikowski said that the change should be put up for a public hearing given that it was so different from the initial proposal, and that members of the public who didn’t have any comments about cultivation in industrial zones may have comments about allowing it in residential zones.

DeVoto agreed that it should go before a public hearing, and withdrew his motion so the commission could vote to approve the initial proposal. 

DeVoto told CT Examiner on Thursday morning that he had not decided whether he would bring his idea forward as a separate proposal, and that he wanted to discuss the idea further with Kozikowski. He said he believes his proposal fits in with the city’s goal of supporting small farmers and minority-owned businesses.

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