'The new reality': Milford bans pot smoking in public

Milford City Hall

Milford City Hall

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MILFORD — Even though marijuana has been legalized, that doesn’t mean people can smoke it on Milford’s beaches.

The Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance to prohibit smoking in public areas at its Aug. 2 meeting. Three other potential ordinances were tabled.

Read more about marijuana legalization here.

“In my estimation, we didn’t have the necessary time to do the very deep exploration on some of these subjects in terms of adjoining communities, in terms of reconciliation with federal law that hold cannabis to be illegal and what I feel, a number of procedural things that I don’t think could be adequately answered given the scope and gravity of these items tonight,” said Ordinance Committee Chairman Frank Smith .

The approved ordinance would prohibit the consumption, use or smoke of any cannabis-type substances and establishes a $50 fine for each offense.

“This was proposed specifically to delineate authority with regard to the new cannabis laws and prescribing against its use in various city parks and recreational areas,” said Smith.

The other ordinances dealing with cannabis that the aldermen plan to take up again in September include licensing and regulating of cannabis establishments.

Michelle Parente, D-1, said she supported the public smoking ban, and was thankful for the extra month to study the new law.

“I familiarized myself somewhat with the new legislation. It’s dense, it’s long, it’s complicated,” she said. “I think we have to take a prudent approach. We have to really understand, all of us, what we can do and what we can’t do.”

Raymond Vitali, R-5, said he wanted to make sure the Police Department would enforce the public smoking ordinance.

“I sit on the Oyster Festival Committee, and it’s going to be insane down there if we can’t do something about it,” he said.

Vitali also questioned the state law’s relationship with federal law.

“It’s hypocritical in the way that laws are legislated in direct opposition with federal law,” he said. “It’s done with vigor and no remorse, and the fact is it’s almost putting the cart before the horse.”

The law that legalized recreational use of cannabis contains a provision that will require some Connecticut cities to create outdoor spaces specifically intended for using marijuana. The law mandates that cities with a population greater than 50,000 must designate a location in the municipality where public consumption is allowed, according to an Office of Legislative Research analysis of the bill.

Anthony Giannattasio, R-1, said it was important for the aldermen to have the final say on the designated area.

“People will say they’re not going to go there anyway, (or) they’re going to do it at their home,” he said. “There’s advertisements. There’s marijuana festivals, and they’re going to be looking for open areas where they can congregate. We need to be prepared. This the new reality.”

Police Chief Keith Mello said prohibiting activities in public recreation areas gives the department authority to assist the board.

“The question really is, are you comfortable with people smoking in parks and beaches?” Mello said. “This ordinance allows us to have the authority to tell people you can’t do that here. Hopefully, people will be responsible enough to not smoke marijuana in the presence of families and children and be disruptive to them.”

James Tranquilli, R-1, objected to the idea that the state could force municipalities to designate an area to smoke.

“I think we have to be cautious on what we do. I’m glad that we’re going to bring up it at the next meeting and discuss it, but I think there should be a lot more discussion,” said Tranquilli. “I support the enforcement part of it, but I think we need to be real cautious as to where we designate an area, because it is law, and we don’t have a choice.”

Parente asked if Mello had talked to other police chiefs from the different municipalities of Milford’s size about designated areas or what they would like to see.

Mello said the law was still too new for chiefs to have shared their reactions.

“We are still trying to dissect this and figure it out ourselves,” he said. “There is a lot of pieces to this, and it gets complicated.”

He added that he has a call with other chiefs on Aug. 5 and will bring that question up.

Health Director Deepa Joseph said from a public health perspective, the concern is the impact that secondhand marijuana smoke can have on people.

“In addressing even COVID, many of the things that we’ve done over the past year are really looking at the public health impact,” she said. “So not necessarily your personal health but what those choices do to those around you and particularly the vulnerable.”

She said public recreation spaces are where community members go to enjoy family time or spend time with friends.

“So from a public health perspective, we see this ordinance as a tool to maintain the health and safety to maintain our community,” she said.