Town Council Committee Finalizes West Hartford Cannabis Ordinance

West Harford Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee approved a draft adult-use cannabis ordinance and a public hearing will be scheduled for next month.

By Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Town Council will be considering an ordinance regulating adult-use cannabis that has been developed over the past several months by the Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) Committee  and town staff.

At its March 28 meeting, a draft of the adult-use cannabis ordinance was reviewed, and several committee members expressed concern that as worded the ordinance might allow cannabis retailers to be clustered in one portion of town rather than being spread out. The CPED Committee directed Acting Town Manager Rick Ledwith and Town Planner Todd Dumais to consider further tweaks and options and the Committee met again Tuesday night to finalize the ordinance.

Ledwith said Tuesday that while it was originally believed that the town would be permitted up to three licenses for retailers and three for micro-cultivators – based on the restriction of one per 25,000 of population – staff has now confirmed that through June 30, 2024 the state will authorize just two of each type of license for West Hartford.

The CPED Committee considered various distance options for buffers between cannabis establishments – ranging from 500 feet to 1,500 feet – from “sensitive uses” that include schools, parks, municipal recreation facilities, and libraries. Options were also considered to require a buffer from other municipal buildings – including Town Hall – as well as from child care facilities.

“Including municipal buildings would create more restrictions,” Ledwith said, and he noted that fire stations, which are municipal buildings, are in commercial areas that might otherwise be eligible for location of a retailer. Requiring a buffer from child care facilities – of which the town has roughly 50 – would also leave very few possible parcels available for cannabis establishments.

One of the options Ledwith prepared for considering of the CPED Committee – and the one that was chosen for the full Town Council to consider (below, at right) – provides a 500-foot buffer from sensitive uses, and limits cannabis retailers to business districts. There are roughy 259 possible properties where retailers could be located, in both the north, south, and central areas of town.

Under the ordinance being considered, micro-cultivators, or any other production facilities, will be permitted in industrial zones only – which are primarily in the south end of town. State licensing must be received and site plans must be approved before any cannabis establishments are able to open in West Hartford.

Screenshot from Town of West Hartford website.

Council member Leon Davidoff, who chairs the CPED Committee, agreed with the plan to allow retailers in the business districts only, which is a reasonable alternative that would provide the opportunity for them to be spread out in town while leaving a reasonable number of available properties. “I think we have to offer what I feel are reasonable standards,” he said, to ensure that from a legal standpoint the town will not be challenged in court for creating zoning regulations so strict that the use is essentially prohibited.

The most restrictive of the options the committee considered would push all possible locations to Elmwood. “I do think that having as broad a geographic area where it’s possible to put a store is the best way to go,” committee member Ben Wenograd said.

The ordinance being considered at this time does not address smoking in public parks.

The Town Council will vote at its April 12 meeting to set a public hearing for the Ordinance Regulating Adult-Use Cannabis, Ledwith said. The hearing and subsequent vote are expected to take place on May 24.

Adult possession of a certain quantity of recreational cannabis was legalized in Connecticut in July 2021, and in October 2021 the portion of the act permitting municipalities to regulate use of the substance took effect. Section 148 of PA-21-1, “An Act Concerning Responsible And Equitable Regulation Of Adult-Use Cannabis” (RERACA) gives municipalities the authority, through zoning, to prohibit cannabis establishments from being located in town, to allow cannabis establishments but create a special permitting or other zoning approval process, to establish restrictions related to hours of operation and signage, and to restrict the proximity of establishments to uses such as parks and schools.

The Town Council unanimously adopted a resolution last summer, asking then-Town Manager Matt Hart to begin a study of the new law, and to make recommendations regarding the safe and responsible adult use and sale of cannabis in West Hartford.

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