EAST LYME – Both candidates for First Selectman of East Lyme agree that the voters should decide in a referendum whether to allow marijuana dispensaries in town, but Democratic candidate Camille Alberti said she doesn’t believe the town needs to impose a moratorium in the meantime.
Selectman Kevin Seery, who is running as the Republican candidate to replace outgoing First Selectman Mark Nickerson, said the “pause” on marijuana dispensaries that the Board of Selectmen is considering would give the town a chance to take a good look at how the town wants to handle the new businesses.
“We understand marijuana is legal, we just want to take out time to look at all the implications, make sure that the public is informed, and let people voice any concerns they have,” Seery said.
The East Lyme Board of Selectmen is holding a public hearing on the proposed moratorium on marijuana dispensaries and on smoking marijuana in public at 7 p.m. Wednesday evening in the East Lyme Town Hall.
While some Connecticut towns are moving ahead with approvals or prohibitions of marijuana dispensaries outright, others are taking a similar ‘wait and see’ approach. Seery said that the latter approach would give the town a chance to talk to the public about what is possible – like where a dispensary could feasibly be located.
“It’s not going to be at Flanders Four Corners, it can’t be,” Seery said. “It would have to be in a light industrial zone, and you find that the only area that will qualify will be out on Colton Road.”
Laurie Zrenda, an East Lyme resident and former owner of an Uncasville medical marijuana dispensary, Thames Valley Relief, has purchased a property on Colton Road with the hope that the state will approve her for a marijuana dispensary licence when it opens up its lotteries next year.
Zrenda has also applied for a zoning text change to allow marijuana dispensaries in the town’s light industrial zones, which would include her Colton Road property. That application was approved by the East Lyme Planning Commission, and is now being considered by the town’s Zoning Commission.
East Lyme Zoning Enforcement Officer Bill Mulholland said that if the selectmen did impose a moratorium, the Zoning Commission could still go ahead and adopt the text amendment regulating the sale of marijuana and limiting it to the light industrial zone. However, Mulholland said the Zoning Commission would not be able to actually issue a special permit until the moratorium ended, which the regulations will most likely require for a dispensary.
Board of Finance Chair Camille Alberti said that, while she was not a proponent of marijuana being legalized in Connecticut, now that it has been, she would rather have a dispensary in East Lyme than in a neighboring town so the town can at least take in the tax revenue from it. She said she was concerned that imposing a moratorium could imperil the chances that a dispensary is approved in East Lyme, and said the town has had plenty of time to consider the issue since the legislature approved legalizing marijuana in June.
“I think it was a mistake for our state to go down this route, but now that they have, whether we have an ordinance or not, it’s going to happen,” Alberti said. “If we’re going to have all the drawbacks of having legalized marijuana in our state, we might as well reap some of the benefits.”
Where do the candidates stand on marijuana?
In interviews with the CT Examiner, both candidates expressed concerns about the possible effects of marijuana use on the community – particularly for children. And both said they thought voters should ultimately decide in a referendum whether to allow marijuana dispensaries.
Along with a moratorium on dispensaries, the Board of Selectmen is also considering a moratorium on smoking marijuana in public spaces. Seery said he thinks the town’s existing regulations against smoking or drinking alcohol on public property has them “pretty well covered,” but they want to take a closer look to ensure town regulations also limit smoking on public spaces like sidewalks where smoking tobacco is not prohibited.
“If you’re outside at, say, the Black Sheep [restaurant in Niantic], and you’re drinking a beer, that doesn’t really adversely impact anyone,” Seery said. “But if you’re outside an area like that smoking marijuana, people just walking down the sidewalk are going to catch the smell of it, as well as some possible side effects, and there’s a lot of small children nearby.”
Alberti said that, if town voters approve having marijuana businesses in East Lyme, she doesn’t see why there would need to be additional restrictions on public use. Alberti said marijuana should be regulated in the same way as tobacco smoking.
But Alberti also said she was not in favor of the state legalizing marijuana, and she is concerned that it could lead to increased marijuana use among teenagers – leading them to have worse outcomes in school. Alberti said she is also concerned about the increased calls to poison control hotlines for children taking marijuana edibles that other states have seen after legalizing marijuana.
“Wider availability is very likely to cause wider use,” Alberti said. “And the unintended consequences of that need to be monitored carefully.”
Both candidates said they were in favor of having a referendum for voters to decide whether to allow marijuana dispensaries in East Lyme. Seery said he thought the timing of the six-month moratorium would allow them to add that question to the annual budget referendum in April.