06880

Mothers Against Westport Dispensaries

Earlier this month, I posted a story about an upcoming Planning & Zoning Commission meeting. One agenda item: 2 applications for medical marijuana dispensaries, at the sites of the former Bertucci’s restaurant, and Blockbuster video store.

That story drew only 12 comments. Most were positive. A few were not. All were thoughtful and well-reasoned.

Similarly, a post last May about the P&Z’s upcoming meeting to discuss whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport drew all of 4 comments. Crickets.

Finally, however, opposition is brewing. A letter from “Concerned Westport mothers” is making its way around town, by email and on social media.

Full disclosure: I fully support medical marijuana. I have seen how much good it can do, for so many people. I find some of the arguments of “Concerned Westport mothers” to be tangential, unsupported, and perhaps a bit NIMBY.

However, this is “06880,” where all voices can be heard. So — in the interest of bringing this debate into the public square — I’m posting their letter.

Let the comments begin.

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Dear friends and neighbors:

We are a group of concerned Westport mothers.

We recently learned of several medicinal marijuana dispensary locations being proposed in Westport.  Two locations are currently being evaluated by the Planning & Zoning Commission. Both are highly visible, high traffic, large retail buildings located at 1505 Post Road East (currently DXL – Maple Avenue & Post Road East) and 833 Post Road East (formerly Bertucci’s restaurant – Post Road East & Long Lots Road).

The former Bertucci’s — site one of one of the proposed medical marijuana dispensaries. (Photo/Seth Schachter)

There will be a public hearing with the P&Z to discuss these locations on Thursday, March 15 (Town Hall room 203, 7 p.m.). We have spoken with P&Z and are confident they will approve these locations unless there is significant public opposition.

We banded together to raise public awareness of this situation in order to prevent the establishment of landmark retail marijuana locations in our town. Many of us believe in medicinal marijuana; however, all of us fail to see why “medicinal” dispensaries require large, prominent locations on the Post Road.

Very few people we have spoken with were aware of Westport’s recent dispensary zoning laws. Even fewer were aware of the retail locations being proposed. As a result, P&Z has received little if any opposition to date. If the P&Z commission does not hear any public opposition, they will allow these locations to operate.

We are fearful that having highly visible marijuana retailers will radically change the family nature of Westport. The size of the 2 proposed locations alone indicates the scale anticipated by the operators. The zoning laws in most of the surrounding towns do not accommodate marijuana dispensaries.

Westport’s P&Z voted unanimously in June to allow 2 dispensaries in our town (there are currently 9 in the entire state), and placed mild restrictions on where dispensaries may operate. Given the lack of zoning laws in the surrounding towns, it is fair to assume the majority of the traffic at Westport dispensaries will be from out-of-town patrons.

The former Blockbuster video store — now DXL – is the proposed site of the other dispensary.

It is naïve to believe that the operators chose these massive, high visibility, high traffic, high rent locations solely to provide medicinal marijuana to acutely ill patients. Those needs could obviously be met at significantly smaller locations with significantly less rent expense.

Medicinal patients know where to find medicinal dispensaries. Medicinal dispensaries do not require high visibility locations any more than cancer doctors do. We believe both operators chose prominent Post Road locations in anticipation of a day when medicinal or recreational marijuana is available to a much broader swath of the population. The marijuana industry is lobbying heavily in all state capitals to expand its recreational availability and Connecticut is exceptionally vulnerable given its fiscal condition.

We believe these prominent “medicinal” sites are simply placeholders until the current laws are relaxed – something we have seen play out in many other states. Imagine the traffic to the 2 locations if laws are relaxed and dispensaries are not zoned in the surrounding towns! Please act now if you do not want to wake up in a few years with a recreational mega-dispensary in your neighborhood or school district.

The letter includes the P&Z address (PandZ@westportct.gov), and asks to be CCed at CommonSenseWestport@gmail.com. It continues:

1505 Post Road East is barely outside of the 1000 foot zoning restriction from Long Lots Elementary School and shares a sidewalk with elementary school children who walk and bike to Long Lots each day.

Greens Farms Elementary School would be flanked on two sides by mega-dispensaries.

School buses on their way to and from Long Lots, Greens Farms, Bedford Middle School & Staples pass these locations each day. There is no question the signage and activity at each location will have an impact on curious young minds.

“Concerned Westport mothers” worry that students from Greens Farms and Long Lots Elementary Schools will be unduly influenced by medical marijuana dispensaries.

Ironically, the Westport Department of Human Services recently hosted an outside speaker, Dr. Ruth Potee, who outlined the correlation between exposure to recreational substances at a young age and the propensity for addiction down the road.

The 2 proposed addresses have approximately 18,000 square feet of retail space combined and are approximately 1.3 miles apart. For comparison, the dispensary billing itself as “the largest recreational marijuana store on the planet” is less than 16,000 square feet in Las Vegas. Does anyone believe that a family town of 26,000 people needs more marijuana square footage than the largest 24-hour, drive-thru dispensary in Las Vegas?

Dispensaries cannot accept credit cards and do not have access to bank accounts at Fed-regulated banks as their income is derived from activities in violation of federal law. Therefore they are all-cash businesses without the ability to deposit the cash in a bank, increasing the security challanges.

Regarding the Maple Avenue location, there are numerous child-focused businesses in the immediate area, including Willows Pediatric Group (one of the largest pediatric groups in the area /state); Zaniac (daycare and tutoring facility); Kidville (a preschool play gym); Sharkey’s (children’s hair salon), and Westport Music Center.

Sharkey’s is one of several “child-focused businesses” near the site of a proposed medical marijuana dispsensary.

There is a reason P&Z placed restrictions regarding where dispensaries may operate. Presumably the reason is to minimize the exposure that the public and especially the children of our town will have to the dispensaries. Given the prominence of these locations, we struggle to see how these locations are within the spirit of the zoning laws.

It is unfortunate that our town’s officials have gotten us so far along in this process without widespread public knowledge. Our elected officials are making decisions now that have significant potential future consequences. It is not too late to act.

We encourage you to attend the P&Z hearing. We need to represent how we view our town and preserve its existing character. The only way to convince the majority of the P&Z Commission members is by writing to the P&Z Commission and voicing our concerns at the meeting.

Lastly, it is important for us to note that we truly sympathize with severely ill patients in Westport who do not wish to travel 15 miles to Milford for medicinal marijuana. However, the operators of these locations are clearly not prioritizing the medicinal needs of Westport patients.

Genuine medicinal needs could be met on an entirely different scale than what is being proposed. If the sites were small, discreet locations off the beaten path, we would not feel compelled to take action. However, the way we see it, these operators are taking advantage of our town’s zoning laws and investing in what they hope will be a gold mine down the road – at the expense of our town’s character.

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