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.”