NORWALK, Conn. — The moratorium on dispensing medical marijuana in Norwalk is set to end on Oct. 30.
That’s only in a certain area; a prospective marijuana dispensary will need to apply to the Zoning Commission for a special permit, under the resolution unanimously approved last week by the Commission.
“You can make a determination on a site by site basis, if you feel the location is appropriate or not appropriate. You have a lot more hammer with the special permit than you would otherwise,” Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said Wednesday.
The Commission, after an hour-long public hearing, approved medical dispensaries in the Business 1 zone, roughly a swath of land between Connecticut Avenue and Interstate-95, and a segment of New Canaan Avenue in the Fair Street area.
Marijuana production facilities were not approved.
The debate about allowing medical marijuana distribution in Norwalk began with Ginger and Larry Katz, of the Courage to Speak foundation, who lost their 20-year-old son to an overdose in 1996.
“I personally know hundreds of mothers who have lost children, and many of their children started with pot,” Ginger Katz said. “I am certain if we legalize marijuana in Connecticut, we will increase the number of children who will get addicted, just as it did in Colorado with teen drug treatment increasing. Marijuana use by Colorado Youth increased by 65 percent, Colorado now leads the U.S. in teen marijuana use.”
“Citizens in states which have passed medical marijuana laws have grown tired of the marijuana-related crime, noise, and abuse which medical marijuana dispensaries bring to neighborhoods,” Larry Katz said. “Since California passed its medical marijuana law, more than 90 cities and counties in the state have had to pass moratoriums or bans on the distribution of marijuana in their communities.”
“The medical marijuana law in Connecticut is among the strictest in the nation,” Commissioner Louis Schulman replied. “…. I have not heard in Connecticut, which is not to say it may not have happened, any of the problems you describe.”
Oncologists say their patients benefit from marijuana, he said.
“We can’t completely ignore that. It is currently legal within Connecticut to get a prescription and to use medical marijuana. So some of us are torn,” Schulman said. “We know that marijuana is illegal. We certainly don’t want, some us don’t want facilities that grow or produce marijuana in our community but also we also don’t want cancer patients from Norwalk Hospital having to travel to Milford to get the medical marijuana that is permitted by law.”
While the couple protested that dispensaries are legal in Westport, Schulman replied, “There are no dispensaries currently.”
“I don’t think there are many physicians who would say it’s not dangerous for the health of a child,” Larry Katz said, going on to mention the heroin epidemic.
“The statistics show that if you can keep a kid safe up to the age of 21, without using marijuana, they only have a 5 percent chance of getting addicted. The first use of marijuana and alcohol in the state of Connecticut is age 11, at this time,” he said.
It’s hard to tell a child marijuana is bad when it’s legal to sell it in Norwalk, he said.
“Let somebody else do it,” Rosario Konstantin, a former member of a Human Services Council drug council, said.
“The question is what is the need that is not being met in Norwalk?” Planning Commission Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio said, explaining the Commission’s denial of the resolution in June.
The Commission voted not to recommend production facilities, but said it would approve of dispensaries in the B-1 zone.
“You can get it in Stamford and Westport,” but the rest of the surrounding communities don’t want it, DiMeglio said, adding that, “Banks are not bankrolling these things,” and a potential dispensary owner has to put up $250,000 up front and have a $2 million credit line.
“I understand the discussion about youth,” Diane Lauricella said. “…It’s not the same as a head shop. It’s very well regulated in Connecticut, as was said by Commissioner Schulman.”
“There are people who are suffering and I don’t think it’s as easy for people to say, well make them drive to Stamford or Westport. … I think it’s been proven that medical marijuana does relieve certain conditions,” Lauricella said. “…I didn’t hear anyone at all speak about the hidden dangers of when alcohol or liquor stores, big box after big box, especially one that took over a wonderful book store. I didn’t hear one word from anybody about the dangers of that.”
Angela D’Amico of the Compassionate Care Center in Bethel said she’s interested in relocating to lower Fairfield County.
She has 500 patients from Norwalk, she said.
“We have the strictest programs in the country. I have four pharmacists. Everything is sealed… Everything is stored in a safe, in a vault room,” D’Amico said.
Addressing concerns expressed by the Katz family, she said, “I have also lost a family member in this opium epidemic… We have over 400 patients that we have gotten off opiates. Every 11 minutes someone dies in this country from an opioid overdose. In 7,000 years, no one has died from Cannabis. I am on a mission to fight this epidemic in this country.”
“I have seen miracles. I have patients getting off methadone. Methadone is hard to get off…. It’s harder to get off methadone then it is to get off opiates,” D’Amico said, asserting that someone who had been addicted for 15 years got off it in 10 weeks with THC.
“The majority of the medicine is not smoked,” she said.
“I think us moving forward on this will help people’s lives,” Commissioner Doug Stern said. “…I am not afraid of any security concerns. There’s been no data to suggest concerns.”
Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter pointed out that the Commission has been studying this for a year.
“This isn’t new to us,” he said.
There may be dispensaries in other areas, but, “We can take care of our own. There are people, this service would be of value to them,” Sumpter said.
“I’ve had mixed feelings about this from the start,” Schulman said. “Because it’s an illegal substance there really have not been adequate studies of the effects and impacts of marijuana. Nonetheless, it seems to help people with some fairly significant medical conditions.”
This story was done from a recording.