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Norwalk Zoners greenlight medical marijuana dispensaries

The Norwalk Business 1 Zone is shown in blue in this map provided by the Norwalk Planning and Zoning Department.

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 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.

9 comments

Rick August 22, 2017 at 4:29 am

Thats great at least the city understands South Norwalk has its own distribution outlets and home grown gangs running a flawless operation.

In 7,000 years, no one has died from Cannabis.Buy it in South Norwalk and you could get killed in one transaction.

Shame Planning and Zoning didn’t get involved on Quintard ave the mayor and the board are all going to court ,would of been nice to see the same concern from the city.

Priorities the city has them,damm if I can figure out what they are.

V August 22, 2017 at 9:24 am

Please clarify – anyone can walk in and sniff joints? or do you need a special permit?

I am not an advocate or user of weeds.

Donna August 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm

We have an opioid and heroin epidemic because of increased legal drug prescriptions for opioids. It is never easy to lose a child to a drug addiction. But as yet there is no compelling scientific evidence linking marijuana use to dangerous addictions. And for chronic pain sufferers, medical marijuana is much safer than Percocet and other prescription pain killers.

Galen Wells August 22, 2017 at 2:25 pm

You need a doctors prescription to get medical marijuana. Connecticut’s law are very restrictive and medical marijuana is closely regulated.

Rick August 22, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Why was the ten beds at Norwalk hospital closed ay Norwalk hospital for treatment why did Bob Duff and others allow this cut?

Whats more disturbing is the ten beds created on Quintard ave on the second floor.Was this a coincidence?

This is what we were wondering when they closed the beds at Norwalk hospital.

mayor talks about the homeless talks about the progress yet each day the shuttle starts of unwanted drug users off the streets back to the ER

Wonder if people like Wells understands whats going on in the city,a blind eye doesn’t qualify as a solution, letting quintard ave build a entire ward in front of the mayor and police chief Duff and Perone seems absurd but it did happen.

Who knows the numbers the last ones report last year showed the city transported the same person to the ER last year over 300 times,has there been progress where are the numbers before the election ?

Democrats are responsible for the medical scheme in the city ,bet if you ask any counselor they would draw a blank and have no idea of any fact ,

Its all about those who are denied or left waiting for medical assistance in the city that deserves it who has their back ?

Drs from other states cant be considered a source of a script for the medical pot? I think the experts may be wrong , a whole list of reasons are standard to get a script are they not?

Ct laws are not influenced by the the Government? Who owns the rules the state?

How much money does the city get from a pot outlet? and with the mall opening there has to be a dramatic increase in our police dept where is that money coming from? where are the plans?

Is any rudder in the water on this?

Donna August 22, 2017 at 4:34 pm

@Rick, the time for the city to have intervened on 17 Quintard was around 2014 when the mayor, police chief and CC president received letters from Firetree as part of their RFP from the Bureau of Prisons. Still only the zoning department can issue permits and approve uses.

As far as a dispensary goes, the zoning commission has limited potential dispensaries to a few limited commerical/business zones. I know people who receive medical marijuana for their pain and other disabilities. These people don’t drink or do any kind of drugs. They are about the least risky people I know. It’s the illegal drug operations that pose risks, especially opioids.

Stephanie F. August 25, 2017 at 3:44 pm

I agree with Donna – Connecticut has an opioid epidemic due to the increased legal drug prescriptions for opioids. It is not fair or accurate to say that every person who smokes marijuana, adult or adolescent, will go on to become addicted to more dangerous substances.
My husband has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and was on opioids (as prescribed, legally) for five years, saw 27 doctors and had countless procedures. CRPS was approved as a condition treatable with medical marijuana in CT. I, for one, am thankful we will no longer have to drive from lower FFLD Co. to Bethel so that he may finally continue to to experience relief from chronic, debilitating pain.
The Katz Family experienced an unimaginable tragedy, but unfortunately their message to teens of abstinence from all liquor and substances is simply not realistic. The teenagers that “vow” to stay away from drugs during the Katz’s school presentation a Thursday are likely to drink that weekend at a party regardless. It is scientifically proven that the Katz’s method and message is ineffective. In fact, doctors advise parents to avoid making “the drug talk” a stern lecture; instead we are advised to keep it relaxed and invite the child to share his or her views on the subject. The more communication a parent and child can have on the subject, the better will be the understanding and the more that the child will want to avoid doing anything that would disappoint the family unit.

N September 16, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Please check your facts before writing an article like this…even though there are a lot of quotes, which aren’t your fault…a lot of this article is incorrect. I am currently an employee of one of the 9 dispensaries in the state of CT and most of what is said in this article is false.

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