Tag Archives: Medical marijuana

[OPINION] RTMers: Why We Voted Against Recreational Marijuana Ban

Earlier this month, the Representative Town Meeting considered an ordinance to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in Westport. (Currently, only medical marijuana is legal in Connecticut.) The motion was defeated, 18-16, after more than 3 hours of debate.

After the vote, 14 RTM members who voted against the proposal sent this email to “06880”:

Westport’s most recent RTM meeting included consideration of an ordinance that sought to ban the sale of recreational marijuana, despite the fact that it is already – and remains — illegal in Connecticut and Westport.

For reasons that persuaded the majority of the RTM, any ordinance passed in anticipation of a future state decriminalization statute would be speculative, premature, and passed now for no reason that could achieve even a modicum of extra protection for the town of Westport.

As explained below, it turned out that the proposed legislation was deeply flawed and poorly conceived.

Some states have legalized marijuana based on the view that legalization could ensure that the ingredients are standardized to make it safer, so it is not cut with unsafe or excessively strong or dangerous ingredients. Connecticut, other states, and the federal government have been considering whether the laws should be changed.

A variety of medical marijuana edibles.

Many states have permitted an opt-out provision, permitting individual towns to decide to limit retail sales.

To date, the versions of the marijuana decriminalization legislation submitted to the Connecticut legislature also included local opt-out provisions for retail sales.

The RTM’s final debate on this proposed ordinance to ban retail sales of marijuana made it clear that there is significant desire to restrict or prevent the sale of recreational marijuana retail sales in our town when, and if, a decriminalization statute is passed.

However, under no scenario would any such decriminalization statute afford any Connecticut town the right to make marijuana illegal for use. The legal concept of state preemption of municipal and town ordinances would clearly prohibit that.

The town attorney spoke at the RTM meeting and provided his opinion that the proposed ordinance, as written, was problematic. He was unable to testify in support of the petitioners’ defective ordinance. He noted that, under the law, there is something called the preemption doctrine, which means that any state law would preempt a town ordinance that contradicts it.  So, for instance, if the state legalizes marijuana, there is nothing Westport can do to make it illegal.

However, if the state statute expressly permits towns to decide how many retail stores for marijuana there should be or whether there should be any at all, then towns such as Westport would be empowered and permitted to limit or prohibit retail sales.

Moreover, there is typically a period of time between when a state statute is passed, and when it becomes enacted and has the force of law.  With respect to the legalization of marijuana, in Connecticut, it is anticipated that there will be an 18-month to 2-year interregnum between passage and enactment.  This will give Westport plenty of time to evaluate what the new law says, and how Westport can protect itself with the right kind of ordinance.

Passing such an ordinance now, however, is a bit like shadow boxing; we really have nothing to swing at and hit, as the legislation we are trying to address has not been passed yet.

Moreover, given that we will be afforded abundant time to address retail sales in the event the decriminalization statute is passed, before it becomes enacted into law, it makes no sense to swing in the blind now.  We have insufficient details about what the eventual decriminalization legislation would say, and/or whether it will even pass.  Therefore, any attempt to pass legislation in such a knowledge vacuum would result in a potentially deeply flawed and inaccurate ordinance.

That is not how responsible RTM legislators should proceed.

An ordinance is a law, so it must be legally viable. Some RTMers who voted for this ordinance said they recognized that it would be completely ineffective, but thought it would be “symbolic.”

Legislators who take their role seriously cannot pass legislation that they know to be ineffective and unenforceable, simply because it “feels good.” Symbolic votes are preserved for “sense of the meeting” votes; they should not be used for legislation.

At the hearing, the petitioners also acknowledged their proposed ordinance was flawed when they realized it accidentally outlawed a derivative substance, CBD, that is perfectly legal.

Additionally, the ordinance had what many perceived to be due process problems.  Instead of permitting the police to issue a citation for a violation and then a hearing with all afforded due process rights in court, the proposal politicized the process, permitting a politically elected official, the first selectman, to appoint a hearing officer – even a biased one — to be the judge and jury.

The “officer” would not have to have any legal background or expertise or even personal qualifications, would not have to follow the Connecticut Rules of Evidence or Civil Procedure, would not be required to be objective and unbiased, and the ordinance provided no means to seek recusal for bias or conflict of interest, etc.

Westporters believe in due process rights, and in protecting the legal rights of all, including the falsely accused, as well as the properly accused. This weakness in the petitioners’ proposed ordinance needs to be changed to permit the accused to have any violation citation to be initially heard in court, given the serious reputational and career harm to be had from such a citation for narcotics sales.

As a result of these shortcomings, the RTM did not pass this ordinance last week. However, with the right ordinance — without so many legal and due process flaws – brought forth when and if the state actually passes the decriminalization statute, the RTM may then (more appropriately) revisit this issue.

Many of the 18 members who voted against this particular ordinance are not opposed to a ban on retail sales of recreational marijuana in Westport, but recognized that, as our town attorney explained, this poorly constructed ordinance would not be legally viable.

Westport has already restricted the sale of marijuana.  The town’s Planning & Zoning Commission put in place strict zoning regulations that allow only the sale of medical marijuana in specific places. This highly proscriptive zoning restriction does not allow for recreational sales at these places. Despite scare tactics to the contrary, there is no mechanism for the approved medical facilities to suddenly become recreational facilities if the state were to permit the sale of recreational usage.

Whether you are for or opposed to the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana, you can rest assured that we RTMers will fight hard to ensure that we have a say as to whether it is something that we want here in Westport.

Once the statewide legal status is sorted out, the RTM will consider a better-crafted ordinance. For the time being, however, we must all remember that recreational marijuana is still illegal here and in all of Connecticut. Scare tactics aside, there is zero doubt that, should that legal status change in the future, Westport will have more than ample time to pass any necessary, legally permissible, local legislation.

Seth Braunstein
Andrew Collabella
Arline Gertzoff
Wendy Goldwyn Batteau
Kristan Hamlin
Richard Jaffe
Amy Kaplan
Nicole Klein
Ellen Lautenberg
Sal Liccione
Matthew Mandell
Carla Rea
Lauren Soloff
Cathy Talmadge

It’s Official: State OKs Medical Marijuana Dispensary In Westport

In June, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to allow 1 medical marijuana dispensary in Westport.

But that was not the final step on the long road traveled by the applicant, Bluepoint Wellness. Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection still had to approve the application. It was one of 73 submitted to the state.

This afternoon, the DCP announced the approval of 9 new dispensaries. Bluepoint is on the list. The site — the lower level of 1460 Post Road East, in the shopping center with Rio Bravo restaurant — is currently occupied by Coco Spa.

David Lipton — a Westporter, and president of Bluepoint Westport — said the interior will be “tastefully done. The dispensary will reflect the town.” The target date for opening is September 1.

1460 Post Road East: the site of Bluepoint Wellness’ new medical marijuana facility.

Today’s action by the DCP doubles the number of pharmacist-led medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. There are currently 9.

Lipton is also CEO of Advanced Grow Labs, a research and production facility in West Haven. They are a joint venture with Bluepoint Wellness, which already operates a medical marijuana dispensary in Branford.

Lipton calls the Westport approval “very important” for patients in this area of Fairfield County. Today, the closest dispensaries are in Bethel or Milford.

“Right now, that’s a long ride for people who need medical marijuana,” Lipton says. “This means a lot more access for those in the Westport, Weston, Fairfield, Norwalk area.”

There are 30,500 registered medical marijuana patients in Connecticut. The state has certified 31 medical conditions for adults to use the drug, and 8 for patients under 18,

The DCP also approved a medical marijuana dispensary in Stamford today. The other 7 locations are spread throughout the rest of Connecticut.

(For a detailed list of questions and answers about medical marijuana, click here.)

Dispensary Applicants Offer Education In Edibles

This Thursday (April 5, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission considers 3 applications to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport.

A cloud of controversy has swirled around the proposals, which include the 2nd floor of the old Bertucci’s restaurant (now a weed-filled lot, with overgrown grass); the former Blockbuster video rental store, and the Academy of Dance. Last year, the P&Z approved up to 2 dispensaries in Westport.

Among their arguments, opponents cite the potential harmful effects of marijuana. Several “06880” commenters worry about the specter of bongs in storefront windows.

The applicants say such fears are overblown. Medical marijuana, they say, has come a long way from the old days.

There are now many more ways to ingest the drug. It’s used to treat a variety of diseases, from Crohn’s, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, to the appetite loss, nausea and pain associated with chemotherapy.

There are sprays, patches and topicals. “Edibles” — cannabis available in food form — are particularly popular.

So — in an effort to educate Westporters on modern medical marijuana — the 3 applicants have joined forces. They’ll offer free samples to P&Z members — and any adults attending Thursday’s meeting.

The samples are legal under a section of the state statute legalizing medical marijuana. Doses of up to .05 ounce may be provided to anyone over 21, once a year, “for educational purposes only.”

The applicants will provide cannabis-infused cookies, popcorn, crackers, nut mixes, lollipops, ice cream, gummy bears, chocolate bars and chews.

A variety of medical marijuana edibles.

“This is a joint effort between all 3,” says Mary Jane Roche, spokeswoman for one of the organizations vying for a Westport location. “We’re not trying to stir the pot.”

“We’re taking the high road,” notes Bud Kush, CEO of a 2nd group. “To be blunt, if we didn’t try to educate politicians and residents, we’d have wasted an opportunity.”

“Westport is not filled with dopes,” he adds. “There are well-meaning people with good intentions on both sides of the issue. We want to hash this out intelligently, and do be good citizens.”

(Pre-registration is required for Thursday’s P&Z meeting. To register, or for more information, click here.) 

Medical Marijuana User Offers The Real Dope On Dispensaries

Recent proposals to build 2 medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport — at the sites of the former Bertucci’s and Blockbuster — have caused plenty of controversy.

They’ve also raised many questions — and led to many misconceptions — about medical marijuana in general, dispensaries in particular, and the laws surrounding both.

An alert “06880” reader — who uses medical marijuana, and who for health privacy issues prefers not to be named — writes:

In trying to dispel myths about medical marijuana dispensaries, it’s important to understand how they work. Some people think it’s like going to get milk. Others think legions of people will pour into Westport to use the facility.

There was even a suggestion that we move the dispensary downtown, to boost our economy. The idea was that many patients would buy their pot, then shop.

None of these are true. And none are possible.

To get a medical marijuana license, you must be pre-qualified by your physician. You then must see a state registered and licensed medical practitioner, who submits your paperwork.

The practitioner must see identification with your birth date, address and more. It’s like going to the TSA office for a pre-check or Global Entry card.

But you actually need more than that. You have to bring medical records, and at least 2 different pieces of first class mail addressed to you at the location where your driver’s license or passport says you live.

After the practitioner scans all this information, you pay. It’s a yearly fee. The license is good for only one year. Then you do the process all over again.

Here is the important part. When you go through all this, you must designate which dispensary you will use.

It is not the Wild West. You must pick one dispensary. Your license is valid at only one Connecticut dispensary.

Westport will be able to know — in real time — how many patients will use the dispensary. We will know exactly how many people are coming here to get medical marijuana. And we will know who they are.

Once all of this gets sent to the state, it takes up to 3 months to get your license (though temporary licenses can be received within 30 days). That is, if everything was scanned and submitted properly.

Before you set foot in the facility, you need to bring your regular ID (most likely a driver’s license) and your state-issued medical marijuana ID.

At the door, you put both IDs onto a scanner. The person on the other side takes a few minutes to verify your information. She takes a picture of you, and finally buzzes you in.

Each time you enter, a record is kept for the state — with your picture. It’s more like using your safe deposit box than buying a quart of milk.

Of course, there’s more.

Before going to the one location you have picked, you must make an appointment with the pharmacist at that dispensary. He goes over your medical condition with you, and makes recommendations. He also tells you what your per-month usage is.

There is a purchase limit every month. The amount is enough to treat the symptoms of your disease. I assure you, it is not nearly enough for a patient to become a pot dealer.

Medical marijuana is expensive. In fact, it’s about 3 times more expensive than the equivalent street value. It seems very unfair to the sick and infirm to be price gouged, but that’s the reality.

There currently is no price regulation. Allow that to sink in. If prices are crazy in Bethel, imagine what dispensaries will charge in Westport.

There will not be a steady stream of “riff-raff” coming into our town. Economics point to a much wealthier Fairfield County clientele using the facility. People will not go out of their way to come to Westport. They’ll go to the facility closest to them.

As for the facility itself, location is important. There must be enough handicap parking.

Is it possible to get medical marijuana without being seriously ill? Yes. Some people will skirt the law.

However, most patients are visibly, seriously ill.  Many have prosthetic limbs or oxygen tanks. They use wheelchairs and walkers.

Most people who go into a dispensary don’t even buy pot (as in, the plant). Smoking does not go well with most diseases. Instead they get oils, pills, strips for the tongue, tea or edibles (which are gross — they taste like you’re eating grass. Real grass).

A variety of medical marijuana edibles.

So: no dispensary downtown. People getting medical marijuana are not shopping and strolling. They are sick.

If we really want to help people in need, the dispensary location must be well thought out. It should be in the back of the building. It isn’t right or fair to have seriously ill people hanging out on the Post Road waiting to get in, while everyone drives by and watches.

We need to stop thinking of a dispensary as dirty, and start thinking of it as a medical facility. Your kids are not strolling in to get pot. No one is. Dispensaries are so innocuous in appearance that unless we had this town-wide debate, you’d never know they are there.

Compassionate Care — a medical marijuana facility in Bethel,

So how come medical marijuana can’t be sold in a pharmacy?

A couple of reasons. One is that there is no price regulation.

Another is that it is not FDA-approved.

Also, according to federal law, all pot is illegal.

As for the concerns about what will happen If pot becomes legal. I have no idea. I assume Planning & Zoning will deal with it the same way they deal with wine shops, or people who want to open restaurants that serve alcohol.

But that isn’t really the issue. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not being set up in anticipation of legalization. Medical marijuana is completely different than recreational pot.

That’s not the discussion we should be having. Do we want to offer to help people now, in our town, or would we rather keep making people in need drive 40 minutes away to get relief?

That’s the only question you need to answer.

A Modest Proposal

As reported yesterday, neighbors don’t want 11 homes built on the site of the former Daybreak property off Main Street and Weston Road, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42. They cite traffic and environmental concerns.

And Westporters don’t want a medical marijuana dispensary on the Post Road either. Two proposed locations are too close to elementary schools.

The solution is obvious, and perfect: Instead of 11 homes on Daybreak, put a dispensary there.

Problem solved!

High On P&Z List: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Connecticut is not Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon or Washington. Those are all states where weed is — or soon will be — legal for recreational use.

But the Land of Steady Habits is one of 28 that has legalized medical marijuana. The state licenses growers and dispensaries.

Next Thursday (May 18, 7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss whether users could buy it here.

Text Amendment #735 would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to be located in commercial districts — so long as they are 1,000 feet away from protected uses. That list includes schools, daycare centers, parks, public buildings and houses of worship.

Only active, licensed pharmacists can apply for a dispensary license. State regulations also require security systems and restrict advertising.

The hearing is open to the public. Westporters are invited to watch our P&Z commissioners hash this out.

(Click here for the full text of Text Amendment #735.)

Medical Marijuana Debate Begins Monday. Or Not.

Connecticut is not Colorado or Washington.

But the Land of Steady Habits is 1 of 20 that allows marijuana to be grown and sold for medical use. Our state is in the midst of choosing growers, and sites for dispensaries.

Westporter David Lipton’s Advanced Grow Labs is among 4 companies recently licensed to produce medical marijuana. The firm is based in West Haven. The other companies are in Portland, Simsbury and Watertown.

So does that leave Westport high and dry?

blog - medical marijuanaLast November, the Planning & Zoning Commission imposed a year-long moratorium on dispensaries in Westport. That would give members time to study and understand state rules and statutes.

This Monday (February 3, 6 p.m., Town Hall room 201), the P&Z’s medical marijuana sub-committee holds its 1st public meeting about the issue.

There was virtually no interest — or debate — when the P&Z voted for the moratorium. Local politicians have expressed surprise at the lack of feedback prior to the upcoming meeting too.

Does that mean no one cares if there is a medical marijuana dispensary in Westport? Is everyone delighted that sufferers of a variety of diseases can finally find relief? Or does everyone simply expect the P&Z to say “No way in this town!”

Does it mean this is a non-issue? Or that no one is paying attention?

There are many factors to consider, from possible dispensary locations and tax revenues to the types of businesses we encourage and discourage.

With or without public input, the P&Z subcommittee starts hashing out all those questions on Monday.

Dude, Pass Me Another Agenda

Item 3 at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on October 17 is this:

Amendment #655:  Appl. #13-052 by the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission for a text amendment to the zoning regulations to add §31-14 (Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and Producers) for a Moratorium on applications or permits associated with the establishment of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and Producers.

I have no idea what that means. Sounds like it was written by someone who was high.

medical-marijuana

High Time For Medical Marijuana?

Carl Addison Swanson is freelance writer in Westport.  Preparing for a magazine article, he conducted an interview that he wanted to share with “06880” readers.

Carl is examining the Connecticut State Senate’s attempts to legalize medical marijuana, as well as decriminalize its possession.  Previous attempts in 2007 and 2009 failed, but Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged his support.

Toni Boucher, who represents parts of Westport, is an ardent opponent.  She led the 2009 filibuster that defeated passage.

The name of the woman Carl interviewed has been changed at her request.

“My granddaughter made me some marijuana Rice Krispies treats.  Quite honestly, I was afraid to eat them,” she explains.  We are sitting in her dark den, in a split level off Cross Highway.

“I thought some police would come crashing through the door and arrest me.”

“Norma” is an artist, activist, mother of 2, grandmother of 4, and ex-wife of a famous Westport producer.  She is also a cancer survivor.

“When I first realized something was wrong, my stomach swelled up like I was pregnant.  It was horribly frightening,” Norma says.  “Of course, they operated and got most of it.  Ovaries.  But I had to go through nearly a year of chemotherapy.”

Norma is fragile, and I am afraid to ask her age.  She has liver spots on her hands, which shake repeatedly.  For some reason, this makes me nervous.  My prepared questions are virtually abandoned as a result.

“The chemotherapy was dreadful,” she continues without being asked.  “I couldn’t keep anything down.  It was like a terrible case of the flu.  And just when you started to feel good, you had to have another round of the damn stuff.”  She seems shocked by her own use of the word “damn.” She smiles.

I tell her I am writing an article about medical marijuana in Connecticut.  I say that bills have been submitted to the State Senate since 2007, but have failed.  The new governor has promised to back any new attempts.  Westport’s senator is strongly opposed.

“Well, I did eat finally eat those Rice Krispies treats, and I will tell you it helped,” she says.

“By my 3rd round of chemo I was ready to try anything.  It nearly cured my nausea, and I slept better too.  I started baking them myself.  The key is to melt the grass in with the butter.”

Norma stiffens in her antique straight back chair with this confession.  She is of the “Great Generation,” and still obedient to the rules of that culture.  The use of illegal drugs makes her uncomfortable.

“But I did keep using it.  I mean, why wouldn’t I?  My daughter got me some and it helped.  It got me through the god-awful drugs and made me feel almost human.”

I tell her one fear:  that the use of marijuana may lead to other addictions.

“Oh poppycock,” she actually says, sitting straight up.  Her eyes focus for the 1st time in our session.

“I have one glass of sherry every evening, and that’s it.  I never had any interest in those treats after I got better.  I’m more dependent on my sleep medication than those things.”  Her eyes twinkle for a second.  I can see that she was beautiful when she was young.

“You don’t have any on you, do you?” she asks, crossing her legs.

States marked in red have legalized medical marijuana. Those in blue have legislation pending.