Medical marijuana is about to become a reality in Connecticut. The legislature has legalized it and regulations governing it have been drafted by the Department of Consumer Protection and are expected to be approved in late August or September. The regulations are lengthy, thorough, and tight. The Land of Steady Habits is going to be very careful, appropriately so, about this new use, still considered controversial by many and still contrary to federal law.
Comprehensive as they are, there is a gap in the regulations that is likely to have an effect on how medical marijuana is viewed in Connecticut. Those who want to enter this business must be licensed by the Department of Consumer Protection, but before they can apply for a license, they must obtain local approval for the siting of their grow facility or dispensary. That siting approval is entirely in the hands of municipal planning and zoning commissions. The state regulations say only that a grow facility should be "in a zone where a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility would be allowed" and a dispensary should meet all local ordinances and zoning regulations. What the regulations do not say is how the facilities are to be categorized, though there is at least a hint as to the grow facilities. But questions remain about dispensaries. Are they retail stores? Pharmacies? Clinics?
The answers to the question matter because they will dictate where in Connecticut's cities and towns these businesses may be located. Very few municipalities have enacted zoning regulations specific to these uses; for the vast majority of locations, the question is where in the regulations will these uses fit? Or on a more basic level, will they fit at all? If the basis of permitting in a municipality is that uses not listed are not allowed, what does that town do with an application for a medical marijuana facility? Some municipalities appear ready to say that the use may not be located anywhere in the town, which is unfortunate. It would be ironic if Connecticut's towns, by not allowing this use at all, could essentially negate what the legislature thought it had achieved. The legislature legalized medical marijuana because there is a medical need for it by patients with chronic conditions only relieved by its use. Since several hundred patients in Connecticut have already registered to purchase the product, before it is even available, the need seems clear.
Now it is up to the towns. At least three grow facilities have been approved in three different municipalities, and they are all appropriately located in industrial/warehouse zones. For dispensaries, it may be a different story. Towns are approaching the dispensary questions with a great deal of caution, perhaps out of proportion with the issues raised by the use. It will do the new industry harm if dispensaries are limited to industrial/warehouse zones, which is contemplated in some locations.
Putting aside the conflicting positions about this new business, but recognizing that it is now legal under state, if not federal, law, it should be treated as what it is — a one-product retail pharmacy. The exceedingly tight restrictions that apply to it give ample protection to the municipality where it may be located. Misuse of the product or the business is very unlikely because it is so strictly regulated. Only a licensed pharmacist can operate a dispensary and only properly registered patients can purchase the product, and then only with a prescription from a specially licensed physician. A dispensary is simply a very specialized drug store that sells a carefully controlled medicine. It is appropriately located in a retail business district where patients can buy this medicine as easily as they can buy aspirin. it should not be relegated to an area of town filled with industrial and warehouse uses, giving the impression that it is somehow an undesirable use.•