Southwest Connecticut Considers the Sale of Marijuana

Norwalk is hosting a town hall and public hearing this week related to recreational marijuana sales in the city.

Southwest Connecticut Considers the Sale of Marijuana
Norwalk is the latest community in southwest Connecticut to debate what to do with recreational marijuana sales

Should marijuana sales be allowed in your community? That’s a question many municipalities are asking—or have already answered—after the state legalized marijuana beginning in July 2021.

Norwalk is the latest community to grapple with this question. The city is hosting a virtual town hall meeting on Monday, Sept. 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to allow residents to “have the chance to hear from subject matter experts and to ask questions about the proposed cannabis ordinance.”

The town hall will feature:

  • Andréa Comer, deputy commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection
  • Lamond Daniels, Norwalk’s Chief of Community Services
  • Steve Kleppin, Norwalk’s Director of Planning and Zoning
  • Steven Hernández, executive director of Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity, and Opportunity

The town hall comes one day before Norwalk’s Common Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would allow up to three cannabis retail establishments in Norwalk.

Earlier this year, the Common Council passed a nine-month moratorium on cannabis sales and growth to give Norwalk “time to research the best approach using a thorough and thoughtful process,” according to a statement from the city.

While the moratorium expires in December 2022, council members—particularly members of the council’s Ordinance Committee—have been reviewing what other communities have done, weighing the pros and cons of allowing retail cannabis sales, and talking through some of the logistics if Norwalk was to approve retail sales.

“During the moratorium, the Common Council determined that the benefits below warranted proceedings with a proposal to allow the retail sales and the cultivation of cannabis,” a statement from the city reads. The benefits, according the Council, include the creation of jobs, increased tax revenue, the fact that is legal to 21+, and it could help address some of “the wrongs of the past [caused] by the ‘war on drugs.’”

What’s In the Proposed Ordinance?

The ordinance would restrict the number of retail dispensaries to three and designate one area where cannabis consumption is legal. Outside of that area—which is not yet specified—”the proposed ordinance would prohibit consumption of cannabis and cannabis products on land owned or controlled by the City of Norwalk,” according to a statement from the city, such as beaches, parks, and municipal buildings. Smoking cannabis would also not be allowed at outdoor dining facilities.

The ordinance would also create a Norwalk cannabis account to store the sales tax revenue from sales of cannabis in the city. Those funds, which are 3% of every cannabis purchase, can be used on: street improvements and beautification efforts in communities that have the retails; education or youth employment projects; services for people in the community who have been released from custody or are on parole; mental health and addiction services; youth service bureaus and municipal juvenile review boards; and civic engagement efforts.

What Have Other Communities Done?

Norwalk isn’t the first community in our region to address this issue. Greenwich’s Planning and Zoning Commission banned sales of cannabis in all zones across the town in July 2021. Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission issued a ban on all cannabis establishments, except for medical dispensaries in Sept. 2021. Fairfield passed a moratorium on cannabis establishments in town until at least Feb. 2023 unless the Plan and Zoning Commission extends it. Stamford and Darien haven’t officially passed any off regulations, just yet.

Stephen Olvany, chair of the Darien Planning and Zoning Commission, told the town’s Representative Town Meeting at the state of the town in January that town would have to “figure out how we would like to address marijuana dispensaries,” but the town has taken no official action yet.  

Stamford’s Zoning Board has approved at least one retail dispensary in the city, allowing Fine Fettle, which was a medical marijuana dispensary, to become a “hybrid” dispensary—expecting to begin selling to both recreational and medicinal consumers by the end of the year.

Next Steps

Norwalk’s first step is the town hall on Monday, Sept. 19. Then, members of the public have the chance to weigh in and let the Ordinance Committee know how they feel about the sale of cannabis at the committee’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.

The committee can then make changes to its proposed ordinance based on the public hearing before voting on it. Their recommendation would then go to the city’s full Common Council for approval. The Council is planning to make a decision before the moratorium expires at the end of December.