Bill Dunne is a Republican candidate for Council member at-large.
Something happened recently that is potentially bad for Norwalk’s attractiveness as a place to live. And nobody noticed.
On Aug. 16th, the Norwalk Zoning Commission, by unanimous vote of all those present, quietly approved of medical marijuana dispensaries in our town. There was also the question of whether we should have pot farms somewhere in Norwalk, but an answer to that was deferred.
The action came five years after Connecticut joined the majority of states (now numbering 29) whose lawmakers sanctioned the sale of marijuana in some form or other. In eight of those states it is effectively legalized for “recreational” use, but most, like Connecticut, allow for only certain purported medical benefits.
Are the benefits real? Perhaps they are, at least some of them. They have been proclaimed as real in lots of reports, usually citing “studies” of one kind or another. It may be worth noting, however, that there were also lots of studies showing medical benefits of opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine, and other mind-altering drugs, and we see how that has worked out. Just because there may be medical benefits doesn’t mean that their use should not be controlled.
That’s why the U.S. government in 1970 enacted the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Today, almost 50 years later, the same law still governs these matters on the national level. It also answers an obvious question: If there are medical benefits in marijuana, why can’t I just go to my doctor for a prescription, as I would for an antibiotic, and get it filled at my local pharmacy? Why must each state have entirely separate and distinct distribution systems?
Answer: because doctors and hospitals have strong incentives not to violate federal law.
The CSA has had marijuana in its “Schedule I” category ever since it was first implemented. Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no currently accepted medical use along with a high potential for abuse. Besides marijuana, that group includes heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. There’s a push in Congress to move marijuana into the Schedule II category, alongside morphine, fentanyl, and methadone, which have a high potential for abuse but also some medical value.
Many say that national law is behind the times and badly needs updating. That’s true, but it’s also true for any government regulation, especially one that’s 50 years old. It’s got nothing to do with the question at hand. The question is: Why does Norwalk have to do this? We are one of only a handful of Connecticut municipalities that have been authorized to host medical marijuana dispensaries if they so choose. Westport and Stamford are two others, and both have also decided to open their doors to pot shops.
No dispensaries have opened in these towns to date, but for Norwalk to continue down this road is entirely unnecessary. Let’s let Westport and Stamford have the honors. Either one is only minutes away for anyone in Norwalk with an interest. Let’s have Norwalk stand out. We have enough challenges with crime and drugs, along with the social pathologies that go with then. We don’t need to add to them.
Consider also our schools and the kids in them. Do we want licensed pot emporiums so near to them, reinforcing a message that pot is harmless, even beneficial? How will that affect our schools and our property values. Do we need a reputation as a pot paradise to scare away would-be property owners?
Then there is “legalization creep.” That happens as the very busy PR side of the pot industry keeps pushing for more and more ailments to be added to the list of things for which cannabis can conceivably help. In California, for example, the list of such ailments grew steadily, now including things like sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and anxiety. Which means that pot sales for any reason — getting high, for example — are essentially permitted throughout California. Los Angeles alone has hundreds of dispensaries.
The die is not yet cast in Norwalk. For these dispensaries to open, they will need further approvals from various city agencies when their proposed locations become known, and public hearings will be called. I urge concerned residents and possible dispensary neighbors to be alert to those notices, then go to the hearings to make your voices heard. It’s important for our kids, our schools, our property values, and our quality of life here.