A medical marijuana dispensary could be coming to Norwalk after the city’s Zoning Commission this month gave the green light to the idea, albeit with restrictions.
Such dispensaries will be permitted in Business No. 1 zones with the issuance of a special permit by the commission.
“No production facilities but dispensaries are allowed in the B-1 Zone only — just on Connecticut Avenue, the south side, and then there’s a little pocket off New Canaan Avenue,” Norwalk Director of Planning and Zoning Steve Kleppin said Thursday.
Zoning commissioners on Aug. 16 amended the city’s zoning regulations to permit medical marijuana dispensaries by special permit in Business No. 1 zones. The decision came after months of discussion about the pros and cons of allowing such facilities.
“I’ve had mixed feelings about this from the start. Because it’s an illegal substance, there really have not been adequate studies of the effects and impacts of marijuana,” said Zoning Commissioner Louis Schulman before the vote. “Nonetheless, it seems to help people with some fairly significant medical conditions, so I will vote in favor of dispensaries.”
Schulman added, however, that he saw no value in allowing marijuana-growing facilities in Norwalk.
Any prospective medical marijuana dispensary won’t be considered before Oct. 30. The Zoning Commission imposed the moratorium date as it reviewed information from the medical community and elsewhere, and zoning staff put forward recommendations.
The decision to permit dispensaries but not growing facilities — and then only in limited areas — came at the direction of the Norwalk Planning Commission.
Before the Zoning Commission approval, more than a half-dozen people weighed in during a public hearing.
Norwalk residents Larry and Ginger Katz, who founded the Courage to Speak Foundation after their son died of a drug overdose, urged the commission not to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
“Our mission is to encourage and empower youth to be drug free,” said Ginger Katz. “If we legalize marijuana in any way, including marijuana dispensaries, we will have a difficult challenge to convince children that marijuana is unsafe.”
Fellow resident Bill Dunne asked the commission to consider the impact of such dispensaries on Norwalk’s reputation, educational system and property values.
Others asked why persons holding prescriptions for medical marijuana could not instead drive to Stamford or Westport where dispensaries have been approved.
Angela D’Amico, owner of the Compassionate Care Center, a medical marijuana dispensary in Bethel, said there are more than 19,000 medical marijuana patients in Connecticut and that 500 of her patients come from Norwalk.
“We have many cancer patients that have tumor reductions that were given months to live. Three years later, they’re still alive, they’re thriving and they’re not on chemotherapy,” D’Amico said. “There is a need for this product. In Fairfield County, we have patients that travel an hour from Greenwich and sometimes an hour from Norwalk (with) traffic on Route 7.”
D’Amico, who expressed interest in relocating her business to lower Fairfield County, presented medical marijuana as a safe alternative to opiates.
“We have over 400 patients that we’ve gotten off opiates. Every 11 minutes, someone dies in this country of an opiate overdose,” D’Amico said. “And it’s 7,000 years and no one has died from cannabis.”
Diana Lauricella, who lives in Norwalk, described medical marijuana facilities as “controversial” but added that the industry is well regulated in Connecticut. She did not recall similar debate about big-box liquor stores coming to Norwalk.
“I didn’t hear one word from anybody about the dangers of that,” Lauricella said.
Medical marijuana has already entered Norwalk’s 2017 mayoral race. Republican mayoral candidate Andrew T. Conroy on Monday said such dispensaries are “nominally intended for medicinal purposes.”
“But apart from that,” Conroy continued, “there’s no compelling reason why Norwalk has to be a location for these shops. Even when sanctioned by local authorities, this kind of business can have serious, unintended consequences for our school children, our property values, and our quality of life in Norwalk.”