Legalizing recreational pot is good news to a lot of the region’s residents.
Politicians, business owners, lawyers and activists have been quoted extensively on what they think about the legalization of recreational marijuana. So The Day posed a question to readers to find out what residents in southeastern Connecticut think.
The legislature passed a recreational cannabis bill last year. Provisions of the law prohibit police from citing the smell of marijuana as a reason for probable cause to stop or search a person’s car, enable people to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and grow their own marijuana, and aim to award retail licenses to those who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, among other stipulations.
The Day asked readers: Would you be opposed to having a dispensary in your town? Why or why not? And, do you find legalization to be a positive or a negative development, why or why not? With nearly 100 responses, this story could only quote a selection of respondents while summarizing the opinions of others.
Day reader Sarah Woodin said she feels “cannabis consumption is at least as safe as alcohol consumption and should be treated as such.” Will Shanahan said legalization is “good for the economy and people shouldn’t be in jail for weed.”
These two answers reflected the dominant thinking in the query responses. Readers talked increased tax revenue and money for both the state and municipalities. They said having a dispensary in town would actually be better than the high number of bars and liquor stores. And they said using weed should not be a crime.
“We incarcerate non-whites more than whites, our prison system should not be as large, private, or for profit as it is, and if you really want to debate the medical and effects on society then most prescription drugs should be illegal as well as tobacco and alcohol, while marijuana should be available for anyone of legal adult age – 18,” said a respondent who went by the initials C.S.
Others also touched on what became an ongoing discussion during legislative debate to legalize recreational marijuana: how the war on drugs targeted people of color for incarceration.
“I feel marijuana is safer than alcohol, and the reason it was illegal was more about controlling people (mostly people of color) and not about harm reduction,” Stephen Schofield said.
Respondent Carter Courtney said something similar: “Thousands of lives will not be ruined by overzealous police and prosecutors, and jail populations will decrease.”
Some respondents, including Tom Donnee, said people are going to use marijuana whether it’s legal or illegal. “Arrests have done nothing but ruin people’s lives,” he said.
Susan Dombrowski was adamant. “It’s literally a weed,” she said. “Get over it already. People in jail for selling plants, in America? Ridiculous!”
Jan Magnussen said cannabis, like alcohol, should be legal, controlled and taxed, as that will “remove income from criminal networks, and avoid criminally charging people for use.”
Other respondents also said legal retail sale of marijuana would stop people from buying or selling it on the streets.
Though Chris Jawaka said legalization is a positive development, he isn’t sure it will stop the “black market.” “The problem is that the legal retail stores are going to be forced to charge so much in taxes that it’s not going to do anything to put the street dealers out of business,” he said.
Lauren Davis said legal sale of marijuana “reduces the risk of consuming street-bought substances possibly laced or tampered with.”
Liquor vs. marijuana
Greg Ellis said marijuana is no worse than liquor or cigarettes, “in fact, it can be argued it is safer than either and it has been shown to have medical benefit.”
“Towns have zero issue selling liquor or tobacco at any gas station or even within a few hundred feet of a school,” he added. “To deny a dispensary the same standing is puritan hypocrisy.”
Rob Justice said marijuana is “definitely not as dangerous as alcohol, both in terms of behavior and health.” And Vana Parker called cannabis a “natural medicine” that is “far better for us than alcohol.”
Thomas Moriarty had a local twist on the subject: “East Lyme has seven package stores, why not one outlet that sells a different intoxicant?”
Maria Bareiss said what several other respondents noted about New London and Norwich — that the cities could use the economic boost of marijuana businesses — before saying New London “could afford to lose about half our liquor stores.”
“I would happily have three dispensaries and three liquor stores,” she added.
Ken Mayer pointed out that, “We currently have liquor stores, sell cigarettes and have a ‘gentlemen’s club’ in town,” and adding a dispensary to the mix wouldn’t be a negative.
Dean Morse argued that legalization was delayed for years “due to total ignorance and lobbying from the liquor industry. Marijuana stores should have been open long ago.”
Day readers extolled legalization’s effect on state and local economies, in particular the ripple effect of having more businesses in cities such as New London and Norwich.
According to the state law, which took effect July 1, municipalities have the discretion to allow or prohibit cannabis businesses within their borders, as well as regulate signs and operating hours of such businesses. In October, Stonington residents voted 2,106 to 1,816 to allow cannabis businesses in town. Just this month, the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission agreed to seek a six-month moratorium on accepting applications from anyone who wants to operate such a business in town.
The Waterford Planning and Zoning Commission voted in December to place a moratorium on the application, installation and creation of any cannabis establishment for a year until the commission adopts regulations in support or against such establishments.
In November, more than 100 people gathered in downtown Norwich to hear the nuts and bolts of the new law, how to get into the business and how it could benefit the city financially. Mayor Peter Nystrom greeted the collection of entrepreneurs, residents, city leaders and curious attendees by admitting he was a “naysayer” a couple years ago when the state considered legalizing recreational cannabis. “But I’m a realist,” he said, accepting that the new law could benefit Norwich.
In Preston, the Planning and Zoning Commission last year approved a six-month moratorium on cannabis establishments to allow time to review the new state law legalizing cannabis growing and retail sales and adjust zoning regulations. The state law allows towns with up to 25,000 residents — including Preston — to have one retail cannabis establishment and one “micro-cultivator,” defined as a licensed grower with between 2,000 and 10,000 square feet of growing space. These restrictions are in place through June 30, 2024, when the state may consider increasing them.
Discussions on how to handle legalization and possible moratoriums have been ongoing in East Lyme, Old Lyme, Montville, New London and Groton, as well, with New London and Montville municipal leaders in particular expressing support for the new law.
Joshua Kelly told The Day that having a dispensary in town “means we get 3% sales tax revenue, I’d rather have that than have a dispensary one town over and let them get that revenue.”
Liz Richard said revenue from legalization will “benefit every town with a dispensary, for exposure, for connecting communities and building trust between law enforcement and citizens.”
Jeff H. said legalization will bring a considerable tax benefit to towns “to afford to pay for education and health needs.”
Multiple people said they’d welcome a dispensary in Norwich.
“I have multiple sclerosis and I go to the local dispensary, I would love one here in Norwich,” Chiara Garrison said.
Respondent B.T., who is supportive of a recreational dispensary in Norwich, said legalization has afforded “a once-in-a-lifetime chance to capitalize on an economic opportunity that has the potential to fill vacant mills and storefronts in Norwich’s struggling downtown and in areas such as Greeneville and Taftville.”
“As a community disproportionately affected by the failed War on Drugs, Norwich should seize the chance to revitalize its local economy by being a hub for recreational cannabis in Southeastern Connecticut,” B.T. added.
A small number of respondents opposed legalization and the possibility of retail recreational marijuana purveyors on mostly moral grounds. Some argued the health effects could be destructive.
Joe McCoy took issue with the fact that marijuana has not been federally legalized. “No matter what the State of Connecticut says, marijuana is not legal in any state for any purpose at all,” he said. “State nullification of federal law will lead to more of the same thing. It’s primarily blue states that are nullifying pot laws. This can lead to red states nullifying other laws.”
Others also said they’d be opposed to it because cannabis isn’t legal on the federal level.
Some expressed opposition because of a supposed effect on young people.
“I would be fully opposed due to the increase in minors having better access as well as an unnecessary abundance of out-of-town traffic coming to pick up a still federally illegal substance,” Justin B. said.
George Sprecace contended that, “The current younger generations already have an overabundance of stupids! And immatures.”
Raymond Cieplik and others said the impact of marijuana on the developing brains of young people is unknown and “pot will make its way to kids as it becomes more accessible.”
Nanette Hay said she doesn’t want to drive “with people under the influence” of marijuana.
Michael Silvia said, “We already have enough people sitting around with their heads in the clouds,” adding that a dispensary will only attract “unproductive people.”
Richard Pascal said the law essentially authorizes “additional buzzed driving.” He added, “Society should be consistent in its efforts to decrease drugged or drunk citizens. Never mind the harmful health effects with smoking that marijuana causes, and there are reported negative effects on personality and the brain. They call it ‘dope’ for a reason. Society needs more productive citizens, not less productive ones.”
Frederick Shakir put it succinctly: “Promoting intoxication is bad for the individual and for the society.”
Dave Nowakowski said he didn’t find the legislature passed this measure in good faith. “I feel the legislature passed the law based mostly on tax income potential and competition with neighboring states,” he said, “as opposed to best interests of the residents of CT, particularly our underage residents.”