The Planning and Zoning Commission voted to establish a moratorium on all cannabis-related establishments in the community at a meeting last week, with the exception of micro-cultivators and cultivators.
The decision came after commissioners discussed at length the possibility of amending a potential moratorium to not impact those who wish to grow cannabis in town and sell to dispensary facilities across the country.
Local business owner Brad Smith brought attention to a specific clause in the moratorium regarding cannabis cultivators. Smith runs a hemp growing operation in town, and is looking to expand his business and obtain a micro-cultivator license for growing cannabis at his facility.
“With the rich history of Cheshire being an agricultural community, with Cheshire being the bedding plant capital (of Connecticut), I would think there shouldn’t be a regulation on what I can grow,” Smith told commissioners during the Jan. 24 meeting. “The moratorium not only impacts sales and establishments of businesses, but it includes cultivators as well, and I am asking that you eliminate that portion of the moratorium.”
Commissioner Sean Strollo mentioned that Watertown has a special exclusion in its moratorium for cultivators, and suggested that Cheshire could explore something similar.
“Can we see what Watertown did, and perhaps adjust it to be appropriate for Cheshire?” Strollo asked Town Attorney Jeffery Donofrio. “What I am most worried about really is security here. I can imagine that, if you have the ability to grow (cannabis), someone is going to want to steal it.”
Smith said his hemp-growing business has never had any security issues. Cameras are located throughout the facility, he explained, and other precautions are taken.
“I think, once people see a 12-foot wall, they get pretty discouraged,” he said. “But I invite all of you to come to my facility to take a look at what I have going on. I think it will answer a lot of your questions.”
Donofrio agreed to look into Watertown’s regulation, but felt it was important to move quickly.
“I would recommend you make a decision on this as soon as possible,” he said. “Getting the legislation from Watertown, drafting new language to make it applicable to Cheshire, that is all going to take time.”
Smith added that his application to become a micro-cultivator comes due at the beginning of February. He is worried the state will decline his application if it sees that his business is located in a town that has established a sweeping moratorium.
“(The state) is only willing to give out two micro-cultivator licenses, and if I miss this deadline I am sort of behind the eight-ball for an entire year,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a ban on growing something — it’s a plant.”
Chairman EJ Kurtz agreed with Smith, adding he wasn’t aware of the exclusion and was open to considering an amendment.
“I didn’t know that the moratorium excluded cultivators as well,” he said. “That changes things. I was ready to vote on this issue tonight, but it seems that we still have a lot to discuss because, I agree, there shouldn’t be a restriction on cultivators.”
Commissioner Jeff Natalie said the revelation regarding cultivators proved, in his mind, that a moratorium is all the more necessary, as it showed there remains so much still unknown regarding the adult use of cannabis in Connecticut and how it will impact communities.
“The state could change its mind tomorrow and decide to distribute 50 micro-cultivator licenses, and if we exclude cultivators from the moratorium, then we need to create some sort of regulation, or else they could just be rampant,” he said. “There is still so much unknown.”
Chairman Kurtz decided to ultimately hold a vote on excluding the term “cultivator” and “micro-cultivator” from the moratorium. The motion passed with a 4 to 3 vote, and two abstentions. Kurtz, Casey Downes, John Hilzinger, and Tom Selmont voted to exclude, while Natale, Louis Todisco, and Strollo voted against the exclusion. Commissioners John Kardaras and Woody Dawson abstained.
Natale added that he believes approving the exclusion was a mistake.
“If someone applies for a license, wins the lottery, and puts the establishment here in a local neighborhood, I don’t want to have to explain why we did this,” he said.
The PZC then voted on the moratorium itself, which passed with a 7 to 2 margin. Commissioners Kardaras and Dawson voted against the moratorium.