NORWALK — The city has taken a step forward by imposing a temporary ban on cannabis growers or distributors opening in Norwalk.
The motion for a nine-month ban on cannabis operations in Norwalk was tabled Tuesday night when the Common Council’s Regulations Committee moved to submit the resolution to a public hearing.
Committee members who support the resolution will hear public comments at the committee’s February meeting before proceeding with the temporary ban.
“We are deploying this temporary suspension right now so we can take the time to fully realize what we think should be the most Norwalk-centric program we could have,” Regulations Committee Chair Lisa Shanahan said during of the meeting. “We’re trying to decide where we want these things to go before people come in and find a retail space that they’re about to move into with a business.”
The intent of the temporary ban on cannabis businesses is to give the council time to research the recently passed legalization of recreational cannabis and what restrictions, if any, the city may intend to impose on its cultivation and sale, Shanahan said.
“We’re very sensitive to what neighborhood they (cannabis establishments) go to,” Shanahan said. “You don’t want a drug rehabilitation clinic three doors down. They don’t want schools or playgrounds or anything like that nearby.”
Despite the temporary ban, Norwalk has no plans to completely prevent cannabis stores from opening in the city, she said.
Since the state legalized recreational cannabis use in July, various municipalities have restricted or banned the sale of the drug. New Fairfield and Danbury both enacted year-long cannabis bans, while New Canaan and Newtown approved full cannabis bans.
As such, Norwalk officials are preparing for cannabis products for many out-of-town customers, Shanahan said.
“New Canaan said no. We expect some other neighbors to say no to these facilities altogether. We want to make sure there is ample parking,” Shanahan said. “The city is not at all resistant to these types of retail outlets, it’s about making sure they go to the right neighborhood.”
Laws governing cannabis operations can be enacted at the municipal level as either a city ordinance or a zoning ordinance. Of the two options, Norwalk has yet to determine how the law will go into effect.
The Recreational Cannabis Use Act, signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont on June 22, includes a provision requiring cities with more than 50,000 residents to create outdoor areas specifically for cannabis use. Cities “must designate a location in the community where public consumption is permitted,” according to an analysis of the bill by the Office of Legislative Research.
Norwalk is one of the 19 cities that fall under the population requirement.
Cannabis operations, as defined under the new law, fall into 11 categories: growers, dispensaries, growers, micro-growers, retailers, hybrid retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, product manufacturers, product packers and delivery services or transporters.
Municipalities can only have one cannabis facility for every 25,000 residents, meaning Norwalk can open three cannabis retailers, attorney Nicholas Bamonte said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Bamonte of Westport-based law firm Berchem Moses PC is helping Norwalk draft cannabis laws.
“The benefit to communities would be the potential tax revenue, and by that I mean any sale of cannabis that would take place within city limits,” Bamonte said. “There would be a municipal sales tax of 3%, that’s on top of the state sales tax of 6.35%.”
However, the revenue the city receives from cannabis sales must be used for certain purposes specified in the law, such as:
“There are some caveats to how the city might use those funds, which kind of aligns with this whole landscape,” Bamonte said. “We get this tax revenue, but we have to use it in a way to improve our residents and community as it could relate to recreational cannabis.”
The temporary ban on cannabis sales in Norwalk will be put to a public vote at the February 15 Ordinance Committee meeting. If approved in committee, the regulation will move to the Joint Council vote and come into effect on Feb. 22, Shanahan said.