Meek’s candid criticisms caught on camera
NORWALK, Conn. — Common Council members have approved a cannabis ordinance for the city along party lines. Leaders said it’s “just a beginning,” as results from its implementation will be reviewed as time marches along and revisions will be made accordingly.
The sole no vote came from the lone Council Republican, Bryan Meek, appointed recently to represent District D. The ordinance is “a solution that’s looking for problems,” he said during the meeting. In a recess, he called the State legislation that has inspired the ordinance a “land grab” and said investors who spend millions on a cultivator license will then have to “give” a member of the minority community a 60% stake in the business and have them “do nothing.”
Three marijuana stores will be allowed to open in Norwalk at sites to be determined by rules set by the Planning and Zoning Commission, under the approved ordinance. It’s in response to the Connecticut General Assembly decriminalizing cannabis and also will allow marijuana cultivation, again with specifics set by Zoning. The Mayor will have the responsibility of designating public places where citizens can legally smoke marijuana.
The new State law takes the highly unusual step for Connecticut of allowing a municipal sales tax. Any municipality that allows retail cannabis establishments will collect a 3% tax on sales, with strings attached about how the money can be spent. The guidelines are aimed at increasing equity to reverse the negative impact of the War on Drugs.
“We are responding to the State ordinance making it legal to both consume and to sell cannabis in the state of Connecticut and I think it would be a dereliction of duty for us not to take advantage of this 3% sales tax, as it could be so beneficial to so many important programs that we do need to fund within our city,” said Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Lisa Shanahan (D-District E).
Multiple Democrats thanked Republican former Council member Tom Keegan, Meek’s predecessor, for his help crafting the ordinance as a former law enforcement officer. Keegan worked with Josh Goldstein (D-At Large) to do most of the research.
Goldstein said the ordinance does three things:
- “It regulates public consumption.” Cannabis consumption will not be allowed on City property, including sidewalks, streets, parks and beaches.
- “Because we are regulating public consumption, by the state law, we are required to have a designated spot,” he said, calling it “rather novel” that the Council has delegated the choice of location to the Mayoral administration. “We found that that was the best way to be able to make quick changes on the ground and respond to information, whether it be from law enforcement, or other regulators,” rather than go through the laborious ordinance revision process.
- It “introduces a highly regulated and profitable industry to Norwalk.” Customers will not purchase “a product that would be laced with an illegal substance, like fentanyl.”
The Council worked for a year on the ordinance.
“We believe that our proposed ordinance represents a thorough and thoughtful approach to regulating cannabis in Norwalk,” Goldstein said.
“I didn’t always agree with every piece of every line that we were working on in this. But I think that the spirit of what is here is positive. It’s positive for Norwalk,” Council member David Heuvelman (D-District A) said.
A trio of public speakers disagreed.
“I think it’s wrong. I think you’re making a mistake,” Martin Tagliaferro said, asking how parents can teach their children drugs are bad when the City authorizes their use.
Richard Bonenfant said it’s impossible to keep dogs out of City parks, so how does the City expect to stop people from bringing in little bags of weed?
Though the Zoning Commission expects to keep cannabis stores from within 1,000 feet of a church or school, it’s a double-edged sword because “forever, you’ll never be able to put a kiddie gym or a daycare center or anything like that” near the store, he said.
Lisa Brinton said she supports the State’s legalization and decriminalization but has concerns.
“We spent years banning cigarette smoking in public spaces and the smell of pot is even more pungent, and invasive to public’s quality of life,” she said.
‘Straddles the line’
Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said that as a parent and grandmother, she understands some of the concerns.
“I think the thing that is encouraging is how highly regulated this is, and the protections in any of these establishments,” she said. “It’ll be treated like alcohol, you know, you have to show a driver’s license, you have to be 21 years of age. So there are protections around that kids are going to find it.”
Goldstein said the ordinance “straddles the line of both regulating public consumption, permitting retail sales, and providing a vehicle where people from across this area, not just Norwalk … would come be a participant in Norwalk commerce, both in purchasing these but also hopefully stopping by a restaurant or going to a store.”
But Council member Darlene Young (D-District B) said, “In my opinion, the things that we’re looking to fund, although it comes from the State, are reactionary and it does nothing to me to improve the conditions and the lives of families that have been impacted by the War on Drugs.” She had decided just then to support the ordinance because, “we’ve said it publicly that those things are changeable, it is flexible…. I appreciate all the hard work and effort and it’s the beginning stages of something unknown.”
Meek said the three marijuana stores will be “three high value targets for armed robbery.” Although he knew retailers will have to submit security plans to the City for approval, the stores will be “higher value targets than banks.”
During a recess in which the City’s Zoom link remained active, Meek talked with a supporter in front of a live microphone. He mentioned the State law fee of $3 million for a cultivator license, which then requires the license winners to “pick a minority operator.”
He said, “You got to give somebody a 60% stake in your enterprise for doing nothing. Like, who’s this gonna be? Like, Travis Simms? Or who? Nobody knows.” The licenses will be awarded in light of who’s connected to who and “if you just plunked down $2 million … are you going to let someone operate that? …You need somebody who knows how to operate a business.”
State Rep. Travis Simms (D-140) and State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) did not reply to an email giving them a chance to respond to the comments.
Shanahan said Saturday that the ordinance “might well merit a revisit as we see the law operate in reality. We also would not be surprised to see the State change some aspects of its enabling legislation and we will be sensitive to those changes and also respond accordingly.”
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The Council’s cannabis discussion:
A conversation during recess: