CHESHIRE — The Planning and Zoning Commission has been looking for feedback from the public as it weighs whether to allow commercial cannabis uses, such as a recreational retail establishment, in town.
The group got some of what it was looking for during a public hearing on Monday. Over a dozen residents came to speak at the hearing, all of whom expressed opposition to the idea. With no one present speaking in favor, and no public correspondence in favor, of bringing commercial cannabis to Cheshire, Commission Chair Earl Kurtz III closed the public hearing.
Kurtz and other commission members did express regret that more people did not attend the hearing to voice their opinions, whether for or against. The PZC did not take a vote, nor did it adopt any final regulations, yet Kurtz expressed confidence that the PZC would finalize its approach in advance of the temporary moratorium’s expiration in July.
The speakers offered a variety of reasons for opposing cannabis in Cheshire, including its effects on children and young people, the additional difficulties it poses for law enforcement, and the detriments to public health, safety and morality. Vincent Flynn, who spoke first, offered his recent experiences in Massachusetts as a cautionary tale.
“We’re going to pass over a Rubicon here if we approve the sale of cannabis in the town of Cheshire,” he said. “I think it’s a very big move and it’s one that’s very inconsistent with the values that have exemplified the town through all the years since I’ve lived here and I’m sure prior to my arrival (in 1996).”
Pointing to the Lenox area — “Norman Rockwell country” — Flynn said it is now “wall-to-wall marijuana dispensaries,” characterizing the scene as “akin to a liquor store in a skid row neighborhood.”
Town Councilors Tim Slocum, David Veleber, Sylvia Nichols, and Don Walsh, came to the hearing as well, speaking as residents in opposition to allowing commercial marijuana. Slocum mentioned the possibility of tax revenues, but pointed out that promised gambling revenues from the state have not materialized in a significant way.
Veleber commented on the revenue situation as well, saying, “The state is looking at this as a revenue source for it, and it’s dangling a carrot in front of the town in order to help (the state) gain more money, only to leave us holding the bag when there’s problems.”
Cheshire Library Director Beth Piezzo spoke as a resident of New Haven, offering her “anecdotal” experience of the effects of legalization, which she called “one of the most irresponsible and unfortunate decisions the state that I’ve been born and raised in has ever made.”
She said smelling marijuana smoke from passing cars has become commonplace in her neighborhood and she worries that the same issue of impaired motorists would likely happen in Cheshire if commercial cannabis were approved.
“I’m also here because I’m a liaison to the Youth and Family Services Board. I keep thinking about Michelle Piccerillo, our director of Human Services, and all the hard work that she and her staff do day after day after day. I hear it at their board meetings, I listen to the things that they deal with. This is going to make their jobs so much harder,” Piezzo argued.
Piezzo cited the statistic that “tax revenue of a dollar will bring $4.50 of increased social resource expenses. That’s the police, legal, social services and mental health.”
Town Planner Michael Glidden said that the state receives a tax of 6.35% on cannabis sales, and towns receive an additional 3%, “which is independent of the state’s cut.” However, that money is earmarked for six specific areas, Glidden said, and cannot be used for general fund purposes. An additional tax of 10-15% on transactions is based on the amount of THC in the products sold, per the state.
Glidden reiterated for the PZC the importance of making a timely decision on cannabis regulation.
“The warning is, the way that this statute (Public Act 21-1) has been drafted, if you fail to put in your regs ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it’s treated like anywhere you allow retail. … Let’s say you did nothing and let the moratorium expire. Then, if someone comes into my office the day after the moratorium expires and says, ‘I would like to open a retail cannabis establishment in Cheshire,’ they can pick any property that retail is allowed and open it,” he stated.
“We are going to act. We’re not going to let anyone come in and tell us what’s going to happen in this town,” said Kurtz.