Despite some trepidation on the parts of some Planning and Zoning members, town officials, and residents, P&Z has moved to make a medical marijuana dispensary in Newtown a possibility.
Earlier this spring, P&Z turned down an application to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the industrial area of Commerce Road. Newtown’s zoning regulations barred medical marijuana dispensaries as a permitted use; nor could one be considered a retail outlet.
The applicant appealed the decision, seeking modifications to zoning regulations and a special permit, and on June 7, P&Z granted approval of such new regulations and permit for the property.
Zoning rules and permits granted are to protect property values and develop the community in a well-thought-out manner. Assessing the many situations that come to the town’s attention is critical to determining the benefits to the community and determining which current zoning regulations are worthy of further examination and modifications. How beneficial a business would be to residents of the town is taken into consideration before modifying standing regulations — or designating yet another special zone for a particular business.
Whether a dispensary in a neighborhood increases crime in the vicinity or not is disputed. A July 2017 Journal of Urban Economics report is among those that suggest it does not; an Ohio State University study showed reason for concern — although noting the risk is comparable to property crime levels near establishments serving liquor. Unoccupied business sites are more likely crime magnets than a thriving dispensary.
Arguments that dispensaries exist nearby, negating the need for yet another, place a burden on those hampered by illness and seeking convenient access for pain relief.
A medical marijuana dispensary is an opportunity for education. These facilities can serve as a healthy environment to legally access marijuana recommended by a doctor. In Connecticut, it is a highly regulated business. Only people diagnosed with certain debilitating medical conditions and specifically qualified can purchase from a dispensary. Cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and glaucoma patients would be among the eligible customers.
Current statistics from the Connecticut Department of Commerce indicate that of Connecticut’s 26,483 registered medical marijuana patients, just over 5,500 are in Fairfield County. A flood of users to our town does not seem likely; it appears P&Z has weighed negative impacts against the benefits to those seeking relief from this source and found the scales in favor of the facility.
P&Z approval does not mean Newtown will be home to a medical marijuana dispensary. While the Department of Consumer Protection notes the need for such dispensaries is growing, it is not a given that the DCP will select this application for one of only three to ten new licenses it plans to grant; more than 70 applications have been submitted.
Newtown is recognizing this business proposition as a potential benefit to individuals in need of doctor recommended medications to ease suffering, and to the town. With the correct security in place and attention to regulations to discourage abuse, this possibility could be positive addition to the Newtown business community.