Stamford Tightens Rules on New Smoke Shops and Marijuana Outlets

Credit: CT Examiner


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STAMFORD – It’s not marijuana dispensaries people should be worried about; it’s smoke shops — or at least that was the impetus behind this week’s Zoning Board vote to write some regulations into the books.

“There is a lot of confusion between smoke shops and cannabis dispensaries,” Land Use Bureau Chief Ralph Blessing told Zoning Board members. “The cannabis dispensaries are the people who follow the rules. It’s the smoke shops that sell stuff they’re not supposed to sell.”

But Stamford has a problem, Blessing said before the board vote.

“We have nothing in place to effectively regulate smoke shops,” he said.

Marijuana dispensaries are highly regulated by the state since sales were legalized two years ago. Stamford’s dispensaries sell marijuana for medical and recreational use, and the Zoning Board has been looking to set more city regulations, Blessing said.

The city has two marijuana dispensaries, Fine Fettle on Research Drive and CuraLeaf on East Main Street, which had to obtain approvals from the Planning Board and the Zoning Board after public hearings, hours of deliberation, and pledges to meet certain requirements.

But the requirements for smoke shops are far less strict, Blessing said. Dozens of them have popped up all over the city; the exact number isn’t clear. Stamford police in the spring raided three smoke shops, confiscating marijuana that was sold illegally and other illicit, potentially dangerous products.

To highlight the difference between regulation of smoke shops and dispensaries, Blessing cited the example of SweetSpot, which applied to the Zoning Board to open a dispensary at 111 High Ridge Road. The board last month rejected SweetSpot’s application, saying it did not fit the mixed-residential neighborhood, was too close to businesses that serve children, and would add traffic in an area already under development.

But “if someone came in tomorrow and wanted to open a smoke shop at 111 High Ridge Road instead of a marijuana dispensary, they would get a building permit, get a zoning permit, get through an inspection by a zoning enforcement officer, and they could open,” Blessing said. 

“They would not have to be a certain distance from schools or other smoke shops,” Blessing said. “They would be able to open without a traffic study and without review by the Zoning Board because they are a permitted as-of-right use allowed in many zoning districts in Stamford.” 

So Zoning Board members established some city regulations, and made a list of other possible restrictions to consider.

From now on, smoke shop operators will need a special permit and approval by land-use boards, and they are restricted to certain commercial districts.

A smoke shop cannot be situated within a 3,000-foot radius of any other smoke shop or marijuana dispensary, and cannot be situated within 1,000 feet of a school.

Zoning Board members said that, at an upcoming meeting, they will explore amending the regulations to expand the distance from schools to 2,000 feet. 

The board also established that smoke shops cannot use illuminated signs, and cannot post storefront advertisements for tobacco products or smoking paraphernalia, or display the products in windows.

Blessing said that, because the sign regulations apply only to new smoke shops, he will ask the Board of Representatives to consider an ordinance, as long as the city’s legal department determines that the board has that authority.

“I proposed for the Board of Reps to see if they can pass an ordinance that would require compliance with the signage regulations by a certain date – say, maybe, within six months, all signs have to be brought up to the (new) standards,” Blessing said. 

The 3,000-foot radius restriction between smoke shops will significantly control the proliferation, Blessing said.

“Given the number of smoke shops we already have, this probably will make it difficult, if not impossible, to site any new smoke shops in town,” he said. 

On marijuana dispensaries, the Zoning Board decided there may be one for every 25,000 residents. The population of Stamford is roughly 138,000, which means the maximum number of dispensaries would be about five.

Zoning Board members said they would like to see if they can keep the number closer to where it is now – two.

“We have to ask the legal department for guidance on how we might be able to establish a moratorium on future marijuana dispensaries,” Zoning Board Chair David Stein said.

The board also approved a requirement that marijuana dispensaries, like smoke shops, cannot be situated within a 3,000-foot radius of any other dispensary or smoke shop, and cannot be situated within 1,000 feet of a school.

Finally, board members said they want to be prepared for other marijuana businesses that the state is licensing, including cultivator, producer, processing facilitator, transporter and delivery service. 

Under the new regulations, those businesses cannot be as-of-right, as smoke shops have been – they will require special permits, subject to public hearings and approvals from the Planning Board and Zoning Board.

Zoning Board member Rosanne McManus said the priority is to stop the proliferation of smoke shops.

“I would like to get these regulations in place,” McManus said. “We need to move quickly. They are becoming a nuisance.

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.