VERNON — A proposed zoning amendment regarding the retail sale of cannabis in Vernon is causing controversy over the current proposed separating distance from school zones.
If the proposed amendment were passed, a 500-foot separating distance would be established between retail cannabis establishments and schools in town. For Vernon superintendent Joseph Macary, this distance is far too close for comfort.
At a public hearing regarding the proposed amendment on Thursday, Macary said the proposed separating distance is in violation of state and federal law.
“There is a federal law and a state law that says there are supposed to be drug-free school zones. And those school zones are 1,500 feet from the boundary of the school zone, not the point of entry,” Macary said.
He added that if the Vernon PZC passes the amendment, he would have to report it to the state to ask for a “clarification on the zoning regulations versus the state law.”
Macary also said that under Vernon school policy, elementary students who live a half mile or less from their school have to walk to school, and middle and high school students who live a mile or less from the school have to walk.
If the proposed amendment is passed, these students could potentially walk by a retail cannabis store on their way to school every day, negatively affecting students and cause more of them to start smoking.
“We want to protect our children. We want to advocate for them. Having any type of facility like this within 5,000 feet is problematic. Fifteen hundred feet is the law. And that is within the boundary of the school,” he said at the hearing.
Michelle Hill, Chair of the Vernon Rocks Coalition that aims to reduce substance abuse among Vernon youth, also spoke out against the proposed separating distance at the hearing.
“Honestly the biggest concern for allowing cannabis retail businesses close to the schools is the effect it will have on youth’s perspective of the harm of marijuana, and also the increased access which may result,” she said.
She added that students who walk by a cannabis business every day may “perceive that their product is safe.”
The PZC briefly discussed changing the proposed separating distance at the hearing.
PZC member Robin Lockwood mentioned that if the distance were extended to 5,000 feet, there would be less space available in town to place a retail cannabis establishment. She also mentioned that liquor stores already exist down the street from schools in Vernon.
PZC member Michael Mitchell said, “If we’re allowing alcohol within a certain range of a school district, how can we say no to something similar.”
PZC member Jesse Schoolnik wanted to find out if cannabis is officially considered a drug now that it is legal in Connecticut in order to see if it must be kept away from school zones.
Ultimately, the decision was made to extend the public hearing to the Nov. 18 meeting to further discuss the proposed amendment and take a look at town maps that would show where cannabis establishments could go if the separating distance was increased.
Ben covers Coventry and Tolland for the Journal Inquirer.