Within the space of a few days the state approved plans to place three new medical marijuana dispensaries in two cities while another town passed legislation that would prevent a similar facility from ever opening there.
Two new dispensaries were approved in Milford and one in Waterbury on Jan. 15, bringing the total number approved to operate in the state to nine.
State Department of Consumer Protection spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson said nearly half of the most recent applications for marijuana facilities were for sites in Milford, which is “a pretty central location” given that the bulk of the 8,228 medical marijuana patients registered in Connecticut live in New Haven or Fairfield counties.
While the state was approving plans for new medical marijuana facilities, in a 5-2 vote on Jan. 6, Guilford’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted to amend the zoning code and add a section banning medical marijuana dispensaries and production facilities in town.
While there was no immediate request to establish a dispensary in town, the group Guilford Development Assets for Youth (D.A.Y.) had been pushing for a preemptive ban.
The program works to discourage young people from engaging in substance abuse and underage drinking and teens affiliated with the program had appeared before the zoning commission to voice their opposition to the possibility of a dispensary in town.
Bo Huhn, a member of D.A.Y.‘s executive council, said he is “proud” of Guilford “for taking a stand.”
Huhn added: “There is concern that once you cross the first step, by legalizing medical marijuana, that the inevitable next step will be full legalization.”
At a recent Guilford zoning meeting on the issue, Anthony Slate, a Guilford High School junior, and other students, told the commission that having a medical marijuana facility in town, even if operating legally, would set a bad precedent.
“I’ve lost many friends because I wasn’t cool enough to do drugs,’’ Slate said. “This is just a bad idea.”
On its website, www.itsworthitguilford.org, D.A.Y. says it “works to reduce high-risk behaviors such as underage drinking and other illicit youth substance use and provides our youth with the opportunities, skills and values they need to grow into healthy caring and responsible adults.”
Guilford D.A.Y. is a member of the Connecticut Association of Prevention Professionals (CAPP) and is participating in a Feb. 10 press conference, and rally at the state Capitol entitled: “Be A Champion for Health: Keep Big Marijuana Out of Connecticut.”
According to Anderson, the Consumer Protection Department and the state are well aware of the “possible stigma’’ marijuana dispensaries can cause.
“That is why we so carefully screen the applicants,’’ Anderson said. “We understand the concerns and want to do everything we can to protect the communities that house these valuable dispensaries.”
She added the state also would respect — and abide by — any individual community’s local vote/decision, such as Guilford’s, to ban dispensaries from operating in town.
Anderson said that is why the stringent application requirements — from security cameras on-site to discreet locations for dispensaries — are mandatory for all successful applications.
She added that many of the dispensaries, as part of the application, make “giving back’’ to community initiatives part of the submission process.
While the medical marijuana dispensary business is growing in the state, the growth, officials insist, is being done cautiously.
In Milford, while the two new dispensaries will soon be in operation on New Haven Avenue and West River Street, officials point out that last year the town’s zoning commission adopted their own regulations restricting any dispensaries to operating only in commercial zones and far away from school districts.
The state, Anderson noted, has its own restrictions on where marijuana dispensaries can operate — generally in more remote business zoned areas, and, again, far away from school districts.
Rep. Pam Staneski, R-Milford, noted that state regulations, among other things, require dispensaries have professional alarm systems installed, that medical marijuana must be stored in approved safes or vaults, and that only registered patients and caregivers may enter a dispensary.
Back in Guilford, officials said one reason they didn’t have second thoughts about banning marijuana dispensaries from town is because one has been open since September 2014 in nearby Branford — Bluepoint Wellness CT.
Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove said there has been “no problems’’ with Bluepoint, which is located in a small building off West Main Street, adjacent to the Planet Fitness gym.
“The state guidelines are very stringent as far as security is concerned,’’ Cosgrove said. “These places are highly, highly regulated. Frankly, I heard some concerns about this when the place first came to Branford. But I haven’t heard a single word since it’s been open.’’