SOUTHINGTON — The local Democratic Town Committee has released a statement in support of allowing voters to decide on the issue of permitting or prohibiting marijuana dispensaries in town.
“We owe it to residents to give them the opportunity. This is the most democratic option we have as residents,” said DTC Chairperson Erica Byrne.
The legislation which went into effect on Thursday allowing the recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and over permits dispensaries to begin opening in 2022, however it has provisions allowing municipalities to prohibit sales locally. Municipal zoning boards could amend zoning regulations to bar businesses from selling marijuana or a referendum can be held if 10 percent of registered voters petition for a vote.
According to town voting records, 3,146 signatures would be required for a petition to force a referendum in Southington.
“The fact that this legislation explicitly allows for town residents to have an opportunity to weigh in on if they'd like to see retail cannabis in their community is a really great component of the legislation,” Byrne said.
The town committee released a statement on Thursday saying it is not endorsing that the town either permit or prohibit dispensaries, but is instead calling for voters to make the determination.
“Southington Democrats have a range of positions on the issues surrounding legalization. Still, we all agree that allowing residents to make crucial decisions for their community is a core value of our party, and we appreciate the opportunity afforded to Southington residents as a result of the referendum option,” the statement reads.
Waterbury is considering a moratorium on dispensaries, while Prospect has already moved to prohibit recreational marijuana establishments through an amendment to its zoning regulations passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month.
Republican Town Council Chairperson Victoria Triano said she doesn’t believe marijuana sales being limited to those above the age of 21 would be sufficient to prevent children from gaining access to the substance.
“The drinking age is 21 — you show me some kids who would not be able to get some alcohol. Of course the kids are going to get involved in this as soon as they can. It’s our responsibility as adults to limit that exposure,” she said.
Noting she is one of the founding members of the local anti-drug group, Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success, Triano said she’s “very much opposed” to permitting the sale of marijuana in town.
“One of the things that I believe is if we have the authority to exercise some control over what happens in Southington, we should do it. I feel after 30 years of standing on the Green for anti-drug rallies … no matter whatever the small amount we would gain from the tax on the sale would be against the well being of the children,” she said.
Town attorney Jeremy Taylor is still investigating the process for prohibiting local sales of marijuana and is expected to deliver a report at the July 12 council meeting. Triano said it’s too soon to begin looking at the referendum process versus the town’s elected officials voting on the matter.
Republican Town Council member Paul Chaplinsky Jr. said he’s waiting for Taylor’s report before forming an opinion on the route he would like to see Southington take, however he believes the voters elected the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and council to take action on issues like this.
“I think that the people of Southington elected the people on the Planning and Zoning Commission and Town Council as a representative form of government to take the appropriate action and I have no doubt that we’ll do just that,” he said.
The town committee statement also calls for any tax revenue from sales to be split evenly between public safety, youth services and prevention. According to the Connecticut Mirror, marijuana sales will be subject to the 6.35 percent state sales tax, a marijuana sales tax based on the amount of THC in the product and a 3 percent municipal tax.
Since dispensaries will be opening throughout the state next year, Byrne said it’s not a matter of preventing access for residents who will be able to travel out of town to purchase marijuana. By not permitting local sales, she said the town will be missing out on revenue which could be used to fund prevention services for children.
“These establishments are going to exist in the state of Connecticut and that is what it is. To me then the discussion then becomes whether or not Southington residents will have access to purchasing cannabis … people will have access if they want to purchase. The question is do Southington residents feel this is an establishment they want to have in Southington and benefit from the tax revenue that will be generated?,” she said.