Despite the pleas of a cancer patient and the testimony of the commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection, the West Hartford Town Council on Monday unanimously passed an ordinance calling for up to a 9-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and manufacturers locating within town.
Commissioner William Rubenstein, a West Hartford resident who spoke during the public hearing, unexpectedly answered questions from the Council for more than 30 minutes on the issue.
Rubenstein said that there are 76 pages of regulations on the matter, virtually ensuring that issues like the ones that arose in states like Colorado, which have legalized marijuana in some fashion, don’t arise here.
Indeed, just 3 manufacturing facilities and 3 to 5 dispensaries are initially approved, with a maximum of 10 dispensaries, Rubenstein said. In Colorado, 1,100 facilities have opened, all of which are allowed to manufacture and sell marijuana, Rubenstein said.
The marijuana facilities will be located geographically based on need, Rubenstein said. Four counties have been targeted, with Hartford County being among those that will have a licensed facility, he said.
So far, there are 1,200 people who have been approved to obtain medical marijuana in the state, Rubenstein said.
Further, there are limits on signage, access (just certified patients and medical professionals are allowed in) and visibility, as well as other restrictions on the dispensaries, Rubenstein said.
"We have strict controls on advertising and require background checks on employees," Rubenstein said. "We've done the heavy lifting."
Buildings are also required to have extra security measures, including video cameras, fencing and backup generators for alarms.
Rubenstein said that it will be more difficult to obtain medical marijuana in Connecticut than it will be to obtain Oxycontin, Adderall, Vicodin and Ritalin - all controlled substances that are dispensed with prescriptions at pharmacies.
He added that he did not believe an additional police presence was necessary.
“They regulated the heck out of this one,” Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said at one point during the Town Council’s meeting.
Speaking as a private citizen, Rubenstein called on the town to take care of its residents in need.
Town Councilor Clare Kindall noted prior to Rubenstein’s comments that the 9-month moratorium effectively puts the town out of the running from the first round of dispensaries and manufacturers that are approved.
In the end, the council decided to approve in a 9-0 vote the moratorium to ensure that things were done properly.
“There needs to be urgency and thoughtfulness,” Councilor Steven Adler said.
Councilor Denise Hall said that the community needs more time to discuss “what we feel is right.”
Councilor Burke Doar agreed.
“What I took away is that we want to get it right,” he said. “We have a duty to help individuals who are in imminent pain. … But we have to balance those individuals against the rest of the community which worries about drug abuse. … I applaud the town manager and the corporation counsel for a thoughtful resolution.”
Councilor Judy Casperson, a former Colorado resident, agreed that the moratorium was appropriate to ensure proper implementation.
Which doesn’t mean that the councilors weren’t moved by Rubenstein’s and West Hartford resident Tracy Fanning’s testimonies.
“My heart goes out to Mrs. Fanning,” Councilor Harry Captain said. “We all want to help her and get her what she needs.”
Kindall said that she thought it would be an easy vote going into the hearing, but that Rubenstein’s and Fanning’s comments were moving.
“I think this is a hard vote,” she said. “For [Fanning], this is medicine.”
Kindall said that she believed it was possible that no additional town ordinances or regulations were needed on top of what the state has already implemented.
Councilor Leon Davidoff, who, like Fanning, graduated from Clark University, said that he would be remiss if he did not say that he “feels her pain.”
Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor, sitting in for Mayor Scott Slifka, concluded that she was proud of Fanning and her courage and that she is hopeful Hartford County has a dispensary soon.
As for West Hartford, “We all want to make sure it’s all where it needs to be,” Cantor said.Van Winkle noted that the moratorium could end sooner than the 9 months, if the review by town staff and various commissions goes quicker.
West Hartford is one of a number of municipalities that has enacted moratoriums on medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries. Moratoriums in other communities have ranged from four months to a year, according to Van Winkle.
Other towns have taken different approaches. This week Simsbury became one that has restricted such facilities to certain zones and by special exception.
See more about the state's Medical Marijuana program here.