EAST HADDAM – Town voters this week approved the 2022–2023 budget and funding for a track and athletic complex at the high school, but rejected a proposal to ban all marijuana businesses in town.
The $37.2 million budget, an increase of 1.7 percent requiring a tax hike of 1.35 mills, was approved by a vote of 820 to 609 at the Tuesday referendum.
An appropriation of $2.8 million for the Nathan Hale-Ray High School Track and Field Athletic Complex Project was approved 1073 to 362.
The state Bond Commission has granted the town $1.4 million of that cost and another $400,000 will be provided by the local Albert E. Purple Memorial Fund, meaning the town will have to finance the remaining $1 million.
Despite having a long tradition of track and field and other running events, East Haddam is one of only two towns in the state without a regulation track, forcing student athletes to train on the middle school’s asphalt parking lot.
A track had been part of the original plan when the high school was built in the early 1990s, but cost issues derailed that aspect of the project.
The new complex will feature a 6-lane oval track, an artificial-turf soccer field, an area for throwing events, concession stand, restrooms and a storage area.
The closest vote in the referendum was on a proposed ordinance by the Board of Selectmen to prohibit all marijuana-related businesses in town, including “producers, dispensary facilities, cultivators, micro-cultivators, retailers, hybrid retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, product manufacturers, product packagers, delivery services or transporters, or any other types of licensed cannabis-related businesses.”
After a series of public hearings and meetings on the issue in recent months that drew robust public debate, the measure was rejected 785 to 649.
First Selectman Irene Haines, who was a major proponent of the ban, said she believes that some voters may have been confused over what a yes or no meant.
“The question was do you support a ban on cannabis?” Haines told CT Examiner. “I overheard a woman leaving talk to a friend and she said she thought the question was tricky. She said she didn’t want it in town so she just voted no. Which means she actually voted yes.”
The rejection of the ban follows a unanimous vote in January by the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny an application from a local developer to open what would be the town’s first retail marijuana store at one of its busiest intersections.
The board cited concerns that the shop would bring more traffic to the area, and said the application from local developer and town official Bob Casner was incomplete because it did not include a traffic study.
Town attorneys and a land-use official had reported to the commission that marijuana shops can be expected to produce up to five times more traffic than other retail operations.
Casner said this week that the vote rejecting the ban on marijuana businesses “confirmed my evaluation of the desire of East Haddam residents that they wanted a safe, strictly regulated and licensed cannabis store in town.”
Chairman of the town’s Economic Development Commission, Casner said he will continue to pursue his application for a retail shop next to a package store he owns at the intersection of Routes 82 and 151, and will supply the Planning and Zoning Commission with the traffic study it requested.
“The vote by the residents has given me the needed enthusiasm to continue with the application,” Casner told CT Examiner.
He noted that under state regulations the town would receive a 3-percent sales tax on all marijuana products sold.
“It is a win-win for the town,” he said. ”They gain a new revenue source and have a new store with a very good possibility of long-term success.”
Even if his shop eventually wins approval, Casner still would need to secure a license to operate it through a state lottery.
Many Connecticut towns have enacted outright bans on marijuana sales or moratoriums to allow officials time to write regulations regarding it, while others are actively seeking retailers.
Under state law, towns have no authority to ban the delivery of legal marijuana.
Haines, a Republican who voted against marijuana legalization at the State Capitol last year in her role as state representative and said she was “dead set against it,” left open the possibility that potential confusion about the purpose of the referendum question could lead to exploring a do-over vote. “I guess we’ll wait and see what we hear from people,” she said.