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Norwalkers question Council’s cannabis plan

Monday’s virtual town hall on cannabis. Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews led the meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. — The prospect of retail cannabis establishments in Norwalk inspired questions Monday in a virtual town hall held by the City.

One person asked why Norwalk was planning to allow only three cannabis stores; another worried that they’d all be in SoNo. Ginger Katz suggested that there should be warning labels on the products, just like there are on tobacco or alcohol.

About that last one, Andréa Comer said, “The short answer is yes. And there are.”

“The Department of Consumer Protection has come up with policies and procedures around what the labeling has to be. There has to be a warning label on it. It has to look a certain way so that children are not confusing it with candy or gummies that are not intended for children’s use,” said Comer, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.

Last year, the State legislature legalized recreational cannabis, allowing cities and towns to decide whether they’d permit retail sales and the cultivation of cannabis. There are technical details to that and since it’s a big decision, the Common Council enacted a nine-month moratorium on cannabis sales and growth, to allow for a thoughtful and considered process.

The moratorium ends in December and the Ordinance Committee is holding a public hearing on its drafted ordinance at 7 p.m. today, Tuesday Sept. 20.

Norwalk will collect 3% sales tax on cannabis sales, as provided in State law, and a cannabis trust fund has “the potential to help fund critical initiatives,” Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels said Monday.

The draft ordinance specifies potential uses for the fund:

  • Streetscape improvements and other neighborhood developments in communities where cannabis retailers, hybrid retailers or micro-cultivators are located
  • Education programs or youth employment and training programs in the City
  • Services for individuals living in the City who were released from Department of Corrections custody, probation, or parole
  • Mental health or addiction services
  • Youth service bureaus and municipal juvenile review boards
  • Community civic engagement efforts.

 

Daniels stressed a social equity motivation for the funding. Others spelled it out as compensation for the War on Drugs. Comer called it a “war on Black and brown people.”

“It was a war waged on people with drugs as the weapon,” said Steven Hernández, executive director for the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors. “…The question is, how do we restore the balance that was interrupted by the weaponization of drugs to attack people? First of all, by removing those drugs that would be out of the hands of drug dealers who have no interest in the wellbeing of community.”

He said, “The real promise is that we can learn a lot about how we invest in people who have been kept out for so long. You’re always gonna hear me talking about talking about safety. We’re not talking about bread and milk here, we’re talking about a regulated concern.”

Norwalk is allowing three stores as a starting point, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said. The legislation originally had a formula using population to set a cap on store numbers and while that was revised, the Council thought it would be best to go with the three retail establishments as originally calculated.

If there are less than three, you might get a rush of activity when both opened at once, overwhelming sites with traffic, he said. Three makes sense, depending on where they’re located and it could change down the road.

To the Norwalker who worried SoNo would reek of cannabis, Kleppin said there are restrictions on where the stores can be, including a prohibition of being within 1,000 feet from a church or school. South Norwalk in particular has many sensitive sites such as churches.

“Our kind of thinking is the best locations might be along Westport Ave. or Connecticut Ave., or even along Main Ave. Ideally, this is going to be something that attracts people to the city, because you know, other communities are not allowing it. So, if Norwalk decides to go the path of allowing these, we think it could draw people from other areas. …We’d like to get them to their location, you know, on roads that can handle it, which would be our major arterial routes.”

Tanner Thompson said the retail location restrictions “make it effectively impossible for stores to be located in walkable area. This makes the new cannabis industry more inaccessible to people who don’t or can’t drive, who disproportionately belong to the same communities who were most affected by the War on Drugs.”

“That’s another data point to think about before the final rules get adopted. It’s a good point,” Kleppin replied. “But the thinking as of now, as I mentioned, probably was to be more restrictive at first, just taking into consideration the concerns that go around that … There’s probably going to be a stigma associated with a lot of these uses when they first open up and the concerns raised. That’s kind of why the state really put some bounds around things like signage. So you can’t have like a big cannabis leaf out there, for example.”

Things might change, he said.

Hernández commented, “What I love about this discussion, is that we weren’t having these discussions when this product was in the illicit market. No one cared whether they were selling drugs, cannabis and potentially laced-cannabis in front of a church, potentially laced-cannabis in front of a school, no one cared. No one cared about density, or placement.”

11 comments

Johnny cardamone September 20, 2022 at 7:44 am

Money money money tax revenue that’s what everybody loves oh yeah it’s for a good purpose it’s to help people with mental health but meanwhile we’re just encouraging them to get high in smoke dope and ruin their lungs just like with cigarettes!?🥵 and this is supposed to help black and brown people because they were oppressed all those years because they like to smoke pot? that sounds dumb. Bring all this shit to Norwalk with three stores all the people with money in New Canaan and Darien in Wilton in Westport could come over here and smoke their crap💩 we had the liberty party have advocated decriminalization for all drugs for nearly 20 years and if people want to grow something in their own yard and use it in their own home that’s their business! but my main concern is the young people whose brains will be affected by this and we will basically have a high and doped up society we’re already seeing that with the anarchy and violence in many of our urban cities😩👎🏽🙈 smoking pot is nothing new my late mother was born in 1931 in South Norwalk and went to Benjamin Franklin and graduated in Norwalk High School 1949 and loved our town and her mother my grandmother from Palermo Sicily used to teach her in the 1940s smoke your own cigarettes.

George Feliz September 20, 2022 at 10:03 am

Being resident of Westport Ave area I do not want these drugs in my neighborhood. How will police test people who are driving high?

That is too close to the school Norwalk High…

I do not want the smell of marijuana in public places it is disgusting. Keep it at home in your own privacy if you want to be doing drugs.

Erica Kipp September 20, 2022 at 10:29 am

It seems counterintuitive to use resources earned by selling drugs to address addition and depression. We need to understand that marijuana of the 1980’s was about 2-4% THC and today’s product is 79% THC. This level of THC is what causes addition and depression in many, as well as paranoia and a host of other disorders we are attributing to COVID in today’s youth. According to a published scientific study (national library of medicine and PubMed central) the group using most are males 18-29 and of that group, 38% are white, 30% African American and 28% hispanic. It’s bad enough we have huge Hookah stores in Norwalk encouraging vaping, is this our most creative way to earn 3%?

John O'Neill September 20, 2022 at 11:59 am

One only needs to research Californian Pot industry over the past 5 years to understand how ludicrous these discussion points are:
1) Does anyone really believe illicit pot sales near schools or churches will disappear because legal stores are not allowed? The Unlicensed Market in California is as big now as is was 10 years ago for Pot. The only change has been more consumers of the product. – Not sure if I’d call that a win
2) It sounds like a tourist bonanza because surrounding towns (“Not in my Backyard Liberals”) are not allowing stores in their towns. Has anyone above asked why those communities are not allowing distribution of Pot? Good for us that those white kids driving their parents BMWs will still come to Norwalk for their stuff. But maybe they’ll spend some of Dad’s money in Kohls while loading up at the dispensary next door — Great Idea. I guess that’s safer than buying unregulated product from a guy they never met.
3) People may have forgotten — IF you simply obeyed the law you were not effected by this War on Drugs in the 90s…It’s sounds simple, because it is. Those who simply followed the law back then are considered second class citizens when it comes to the business of Pot? — Interesting
4) Our Planning and Zoning has done wonders for our community over the past decade — Looking forward to this next chapter.

Drew Todf September 21, 2022 at 8:17 am

@ericakipp You hit the point perfectly! I couldn’t of have said it better myself. We are feeding and increasing an addiction habit for a mere 3%! Which given Bideninflation is really -3%! It’s not worth it at all and wrongN wonder why Westport and other towns voted no?!?

Niz Judia September 21, 2022 at 9:52 am

I do not smoke marijuana or use the plant in any other way. I know people that use it medically and recreationally, in various elements of the plant. I noticed that these friends benefit from it. Many states have developing functional ways to implement it into their communities, maybe Norwalk can benefit from mirroring the ones that work out well. Stats and figures are already released by these states, that can be utilized as guide.

George Feliz September 21, 2022 at 2:25 pm

Marijuana increases the rate of schizophrenia. Do we really want people who are predisposed to mental health problems doing drugs, just because you call it “legal” or “safe” or “medically effective” doesnt mean it cant do damage to the community and have side effects. And addiction to its effects because as others have said the marijuana of today is very strong.

“Researchers also have found that if you carry certain types of specific genes that affect brain chemistry, marijuana use can raise the chance you’ll have schizophrenia.” – WebMD

David Muccigrosso September 22, 2022 at 8:44 am

These comments are hilarious. Grow up, people! It’s 2022, not 1972. Large numbers of people have been using cannabis for decades perfectly safely. The state legalized it, and these ridiculous “questions” have been mostly answered, if you’d bother to actually read about the state law.

Let’s please be adults about this, and not just revert back to the decades of nonsense anti-cannabis propaganda we all grew up indoctrinated with.

Erica Kipp September 26, 2022 at 9:33 am

Mr. Muccigrosso—- I am a scientist and read articles most folks do not and additionally have an understanding of plant chemistry. Telling people to ‘grow up’ is unproductive. Please read what scientists are publishing such as https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312155/. Politicians are our elected officials and should not be given a blank check to do anything other than represent the people of their district. And just b/c something is done and folks didn’t die does not make it safe. From the 10th Century until 1912 when it was finally banned, foot binding was done in china to create ‘lotus feet’ on women. Pretty sure these misshapen feet and painful process didn’t lead to many deaths but it was legal, so does that make it right?

David Muccigrosso September 26, 2022 at 2:28 pm

That paper is from one scientist, and it’s a roundup of anti-cannabis talking points from an addiction therapist. Not exactly unbiased, and not remotely reliable as a stand-in for medical consensus.

https://www.ama-assn.org/search?search=cannabis&sort_by=created_1

The AMA’s official position is in favor of expanding research in order to re-evaluate the public health impacts of legalization. That’s just one part of the story, but it’s a *FAR* better starting point than the paper you provided, and it suggests that we simply don’t have enough up-to-date research to rule legalization out. ALSO, this is within the context of the fact that the academic community has long since rejected ALL of the evidence that was originally given for banning marijuana. The original ban was ill-considered and politically motivated. When we have bad laws on the books like that, we should clear them out and clear the way for new regulatory regimes that actually make sense.

BTW, the “not your father’s THC” argument is pretty stale. Commercial products vary wildly in strength; the paper you gave posits some wild innuendo about commercial product strength, and doesn’t say *anything* about typical doses ingested per sitting, which would be a more accurate way of measuring it. It’s like the difference between liquor and beer: You can get drunk on either one, and just because someone switches from beer to liquor doesn’t mean they’re actually drinking more alcohol in total.

Erica Kipp September 26, 2022 at 7:51 pm

Instead of trying to debate (a published scientist), why don’t we ask what exactly is the revenue we are going to generate? Who decides how it will be spent (common council!)? 3% of what? If you want to talk numbers and %, ask those questions. Does anyone think it’s going to be distributed among the six broad-sweeping, general categories listed above? Neighborhood improvements? education? these are elastic. Did you know that the rainbow paint job done outside of Matthew’s Park was $37,000 and considered neighborhood improvement. The link you posted above brought me to a list of articles on the drug overdose epidemic and expunging records of convicts. Interesting readings. An analogy between liquor and beer? The fact is that 12 ounces of beer has 5%ABV and 1.5 ounces of spirits (size of a shot) has 40%ABV, both are considered the typical serving size, and as such, the typical serving size of Cannabis HAD 2-4% THC and now has upwards of 79%. People have actually been smoking Cannabis for 2500 years, but it was used by certain cultures as part of ceremonies to induce psychoactive hallucinations. Certainly not used on a daily basis on the way to school, work, or while driving around town. At the end of the day, your initial argument stated that it’s legal, so therefore it must be ok and that people have been doing it for decades perfectly safely (not sure how safety is being measured). I already brought up foot binding, what about slavery? Slavery was legal and it was done for an extended period of time in this and other countries, does that make it ok? (this is a rhetorical question btw). You have a right to your opinion just like everyone else posting as well as those choosing not to post, but you seem hell bent on using insults as a tool. Therefore I am concluding my discussions directly with you.

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