Danbury bends rules for medicinal marijuana business, opening door for it to sell recreational pot

Photo of Rob Ryser
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AP Photo / Steven Senne

DANBURY — A west side marijuana dispensary that was blocked from selling recreational pot because the city’s new cannabis regulations said it had to be 200 feet from a neighborhood has gotten a zoning break that opens the door for the business to sell retail weed.

“I don’t think this will noticeably impact the health, safety and well-being of our community in any way, and I think it is especially important to consider the limited nature by which a (pot) retailer like this will exist in the community,” said Candace Fay, a member of the Zoning Commission, who led the charge last week to bend the city’s newly passed cannabis regulations to benefit The Botanist on Mill Plain Road.

The Zoning Commission’s 7-to-2 vote Tuesday to allow The Botanist to measure its distance to the nearest residential zone from its front door instead of from its property line means the city’s only dispensary can now apply to the state for a hybrid license to sell both medicinal marijuana and recreational weed. With that permit secured, The Botanist could then apply to Danbury’s Planning Commission for approval to sell retail weed from its existing dispensary location.

The vote by the elected members of the Zoning Commission to bend the rules in Danbury’s cannabis regulations that were passed in August came after the city’s full-time planning staff and most of its appointed Planning Commission recommended against changing Danbury’s new cannabis law to accommodate The Botanist.

The short version of the planners’ argument was that measuring from a property line to a residential zone was the most conservative and prudent way to maintain a buffer between retail pot sales and kids playing in the backyard .

The one dissenting view came from Planning Commission Chairman Arnold Finaldi, who argued, “there has got to be a way to fix it.”

“I understand we just put the (cannabis regulations) in and the ink isn’t even dry on the paper and now we’re (being asked to) amend it — I know the argument,” Finaldi said during a late-September meeting. “But I also know there is no historical data upon which to base our new (regulations), and this is just a very difficult and confusing issue.”

On Tuesday, Zoning Commission chairman Theodore Haddad told the dispensary’s attorney that the planners’ negative recommendation was just that — a recommendation.

“You and your client can feel comfortable knowing that we do not enter any of these meetings with a decision already made,” Haddad said.

The dispensary’s attorney argued that The Botanist is a “known quantity — an established medical marijuana facility” and “the most logical property in the entire city for conversion to hybrid retail cannabis sales.”

“You know the location, you know the building, you know the operation — we doubt the planning department and the Zoning Commission ever intended to prohibit (The Botanist’s) conversion so we seek an amendment that…the new distance requirement would measure from the main pedestrian access instead of from the edge of the property,” attorney Ward Mazzucco said during Tuesday’s public hearing.

Zoning Commission member Milan David said he walked from The Botanist property at 105 Mill Plain Road to the nearest home, and had to cross train tracks, an undeveloped wetlands, and other barriers that in his opinion provided a sufficient buffer between pot sales and the nearest neighborhood.

He asked the city’s top planner Sharon Calitro if she intended to exclude The Botanist from selling recreational pot when she wrote the measurement method into the regulations that were passed by the Zoning Commission in August.

“Sharon…did you realize you were writing out The Botanist when you did that?” David asked during Tuesday’s Zoning Commission hearing.

“I didn’t look at it specifically. I looked at it overall … and what would make the most sense,” Calitro responded. “If they fell into it, they fell into it. If they fell out of it, they fell out of it.”

“Well, let me tell you, I made the motion to approve your amendment (in August), and had I known about the technicality about the zone line in back of it, I wouldn’t have made that motion,” David said.

The Zoning Commission’s decision to give The Botanist a break comes at the same time that another cannabis business is applying for permission to open a retail pot store on the east end’s Federal Road. A public hearing is planned for Nov. 2.

The city’s new regulations cap the number of marijuana businesses according to category, allowing for a total of two hybrid retailers or a total of three businesses in the following categories: one medicinal marijuana dispensary, one recreational pot business, and one hybrid retailer. The regulations also allow one micro-cultivator — a farmer whose grow space is between 2,000- and 10,000-square-feet.

Reach Rob Ryser at rryser@newstimes.com or 203-731-3342