Two towns have placed moratoriums on new marijuana retail applications as they consider rules banning additional pot shops.
Westbrook’s Zoning Commission approved one retail outlet in January, drawing outrage from the surrounding beach community, who have pushed the commission to stop allowing more.
In Montville, where former medical marijuana dispensary The Botanist has been allowed to sell to both medical and recreational customers since January, planning and zoning officials are holding a public hearing in August about banning more retailers.
The Westbrook Zoning Commission voted unanimously on Monday to put a six-month moratorium on marijuana retailers. Residents, who said they were left out of the loop when the commission originally made rules allowing the stores last year, pushed the commission to extend the moratorium to a year to allow seasonal beach residents a chance to discuss the issue.
Chair Harry Ruppenicker Jr. said he was concerned that extending the moratorium to a year without sending it back to the Planning Commission would put it at risk to a legal challenge if someone sued the town arguing the change was arbitrary. But he added the commission could consider an extension.
Jack Zamary and Dave Russell, two Westbrook residents who filed a lawsuit appealing the approval of the BUDR marijuana retailer on Boston Post Road, said the commission should create a subcommittee to discuss new regulations.
“I think [the commission’s] intentions were OK to start, but the wagon kind of got away running down the hill,” Russell said. “People do not want it, the neighborhood is extremely upset about it, and you see how it’s grown into basically the whole beach area is concerned about it, because this is where we live.”
Russell said the beach and boating industry is the “golden egg” in Westbrook and that “no reasonable business” is going to want to be near a marijuana retailer.
Vice Chair Dwayne Xenelis said the commission should consider a subcommittee and potentially extend the moratorium at its August meeting.
“We all want the same thing. We want a regulation that satisfies as many people in the town as possible,” Xenelis said. “Right now, we don’t have that, but we can have that if we all work together.”
But Commissioner Vincent Gentile, who abstained from the moratorium vote, said discussions over the past year haven’t been productive.
“Personally, I feel like the opposition to this is anti-business,” Gentile said. “I think it’s evident to almost everybody in town – you drive through Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Essex, there’s a notable lack of economic development in Westbrook. And we need to do something about it.”
The moratorium won’t affect the already approved BUDR store. Another application for a marijuana retail store at 144 Boston Post Road was scheduled for a public hearing on Aug. 28, but has since been withdrawn.
In a call with CT Examiner, Westbrook resident Sam Lyman said he was no longer pursuing the second marijuana store and would be focusing on other ways to develop business in town.
He said that the project would require more engineering changes and that he hadn’t found an operator interested in competing with BUDR down the road and Fine Fettle in Old Saybrook. Lyman added that he spoke with residents about their concerns with the site, and decided the store wasn’t worth pursuing.
In Montville, where The Botanist became one of the first retailers in the state this year to begin selling recreational marijuana, the Planning and Zoning Commission placed a six-month moratorium on all new marijuana businesses – including growers and manufacturers – on May 1.
Last month, members voted to ask Town Planner Liz Burdick to draft a regulation banning additional marijuana retailers. Burdick said the Town would likely consider banning growers and other new businesses after finishing regulations for new retail outlets. The regulations would grandfather in existing marijuana retailers.
“We did put a provision in there so that The Botanist, should they choose to – let’s say they need to put an addition on the building – we made a provision that they can do that,” Burdick said.