State says 'no' to mayor's request for 2nd look at marijuana facility in Milford

Mayor Ben Blake asked the state Department of Consumer Protection to reconsider the placement of at least one medical marijuana facility in Milford, but the head of the department said it will not reconsider the decision.
Blake formally requested last week that the Department of Consumer Protection review the license application for a proposed medical marijuana dispensary at 255 West River Street.

Blake asked the commissioner to consider State of Connecticut regulations like Sec. 21a-408-15, which mandates that “[a] dispensary facility shall not be located within one thousand feet of a school, church, temple or other place used primarily for religious worship, or a playground, park or child care facility.”

Given that the proposed dispensary location at 255 West River Street is on the same street as Mathewson Elementary School, 738 feet from Cornerstone Christian Church, and directly across the road from a tutoring/child care facility, the dispensary license appears to be in conflict with state law, states a press release from the mayor’s office.

“While Milford understands and supports the need to provide medical marijuana to patients suffering from diseases like cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s and MS, we must also ensure that a marijuana dispensary, like any commercial business, is situated in the appropriate location,” Blake said.
Not so, says state
In a letter to Blake, Jonathan Harris, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, said the department will not review the decision, saying that the facilities were approved after careful review.

He noted the proposed locations meet Milford's zoning regulations regarding such facilities.

"Arrow Alternative Care, for example, demonstrated that 255 West River Street was in a CDD1 Zone in which dispensary facilities are explicitly permitted in Milford," the letter states.

Harris disputes Blake's assertion that medical marijuana facilities cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school, saying that the mayor is wrong and that the approved state regulations do not contain that restriction.

Harris further states in his letter that rescinding approval for the facilities would not only raise serious legal issues, but would be unfair to the businesses and the patients they will serve.

"We appreciate that some of your citizens are uncomfortable with the idea of medical marijuana businesses in their neighborhood," Harris states. "For that reason, the deputy commissioner, department staff and I attended a community meeting, listened to and answered questions of residents. We have also been responsive to emails and phone calls."
Blake wants revised review process
In addition to asking the state to review the location of the already-approved facility, Blake called on the Department of Consumer Protection to revise the licensing review process, collaborate more with towns, and improve communications with local officials.

Milford officials were notified in January about the state’s decision to locate two new dispensaries within the city, the same day that residents learned about the decision through a state-generated news release, Blake said.

“The licensing process would be much better if local and state officials teamed up and conducted an on-site field review for every proposed location. We need to work together,” Blake said.
Neighborhood opposition
Residents have been speaking out against the location of proposed medical marijuana facilities in Milford. A group of residents attended the March Board of Aldermen’s meeting to say they oppose the location of at least one of two sites.

The residents pointed out that the 255 West River Street facility would be near a school and school bus stops and argued that they should not be in or near “residential neighborhoods.”

Also, Jack Haas in a letter to the Milford Mirror in early March, wrote, “While the documented need for medical marijuana is heavy in Fairfield and New Haven counties, why is it that Milford seems to be the one town with two new dispensary sites and a possible third one?”

According to a state Department of Consumer Protection news release issued in January, the two new Milford dispensary facilities are Arrow Alternative Care #2, 255 West River Street and Southern CT Wellness & Healing, 318 New Haven Avenue.

In January, there were 8,228 medical marijuana patients registered in Connecticut. There are six such facilities in the state: These would bring the total to nine facilities, according to a state spokesperson.

A third new dispensary is Caring Nature, proposed at 237 East Aurora Street in Waterbury.

Dispensary facilities are the only places in the state that may legally dispense medical marijuana to registered patients. To register with the program, a patient’s physician must certify that they have one of 11 approved conditions and that the potential benefits from the use of medical marijuana are likely to outweigh the risks.
City regulations
In September of 2014, Milford’s Planning and Zoning Board unanimously adopted regulations detailing where medical marijuana dispensaries and production facilities can be located, but according to an article in the New Haven Register, Milford’s regulations are among the least restrictive in the state.

Under the regulations, medical marijuana dispensaries may be located in Corridor Design Development Districts and the Milford Center Design Development District, all of which are commercial districts located along major roads. Medical marijuana production facilities may be located in Industrial and Limited Industrial Zones.

The city is set to discuss the matter further at a meeting this week and next: At a Planning and Zoning Board meeting April 5 and a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting April 12.

At the April 5 meeting, the P&Z is set to discuss a site plan review for 255 West River Street, and to review regulation changes aimed at making it harder for medical marijuana facilities to open in Milford.

The current regulations say dispensaries will be allowed in the city’s CDD- 1, CDD-2, CDD-3, CDD-4, CDD-5 and MCDD zones, provided they are located no closer than 300 feet from a public or parochial school. Medical marijuana production facilities are allowed in the Industrial and Limited Industrial zones, according to the current regulations, provided they are located no closer than 300 feet from a public or parochial school.

The proposed changes state that dispensary facilities and production facilities will only be allowed in the Industrial and Limited Industrial zones, provided that they are not less than 1,000 feet from any other site containing another such facility; and that they are not less than 1,000 feet from any site containing a church, temple or other place used primarily for religious worship, library, facility devoted to family recreation or entertainment, school, public building, child day care facility, public park, playground or recreation area, private recreation area, or any place frequented by minors; or on a site that is less than 1,000 feet from any residential zone.
At the ZBA April 12
On April 12, the Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to consider a request from Attorney  Danielle Bercury to appeal a decision by Milford’s director of land use to revoke a zoning permit for the facility at 255 West River Street.
In defense of the facilities
In his letter to Mayor Blake, Commissioner Harris further pushed the need for medical marijuana facilities.

“Many of us know someone who is affected by one of these debilitating conditions and could benefit from the medicine, the majority of which is not delivered through smoking but through pills, drops, sublingual strips, topical solutions, oils and other methods. These patients are our family members, friends and neighbors. Many are also veterans who have risked their lives for our country. What they have in common is that they are suffering from debilitating diseases and are getting the medicine their physicians have determined they need.”