Marijuana in Ridgefield? Selectmen turn down retail sales: ‘It’s everything we’ve fought against’

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — The Board of Selectmen this week voted to prohibit cannabis business in town.

The move comes after questions whether the issue would be included as a question on the May 10 budget referendum.

The vote was 4-1 in favor of the ban. Selectman Sean Connelly opposed, noting his “strong belief” the issue go before voters.

“The people have opinions, let’s have it go to a referendum and have people come out and say that,” he said. “I disagree with the notion … that going to a referendum essentially says we’re supporting it.”

Other selectmen said they had a responsibility as the town’s policymakers to decide the matter. They said if enough residents felt strongly about allowing cannabis businesses to operate in Ridgefield, they could petition the board.

“My concern is if we just went to a referendum with the budget … you’re gonna have a very small group of people … vote,” Selectman Bob Hebert said. “People who are passionate about this will get the petition, and that in itself will create a lot more awareness. … We’ll get a larger turnout that way and it’ll be more representative.”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Selectwoman Barbara Manners said they believe cannabis businesses in town would detract from the work of Ridgefield’s Community Coalition Against Substance Abuse.

“We’ve worked so hard to try and keep (substances away from) our kids,” Marconi said. “I do think a store in our community, a dispensary, would certainly allow for a greater presence of it in our town.”

Manners agreed.

“It’s everything we’ve fought against,” she said. “If people want to smoke in their homes, they can buy it in Danbury … but we don’t have to encourage it.”

Manners was referring to The Botanist, a medical marijuana dispensary on Mill Plain Road in Danbury.

The state legalized recreational marijuana on July 1. Since then, many towns including Ridgefield have passed temporary restrictions on cannabis establishments as they determine how retailers, distributors, growers and more would be allowed to do business in their municipalities.

In September, the Planning and Zoning Commission passed a one-year moratorium, which covers 11 different types of business uses relating to recreational cannabis, including producers, cultivators, retailers, manufacturers, delivery services and transporters.

Commission Chairman Robert Hendrick said the moratorium allowed the Board of Selectmen time to host public meetings or propose an ordinance.

“Last night, they took a clear position,” he said in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media. “Now I believe we need to work on either the ordinance or the permanent zoning regulations.”

Some residents applauded the vote. John Tartaglia, who spoke before the vote, argued opting out of cannabis business would be the “easy choice.”

“If 10 percent of the voting residents of this town want to petition, let them … propound why that’s healthy or good,” he said. “I heard all of the arguments pro-marijuana at all of the meetings. … I don’t think it’s a good idea for this town; I don’t think it’s consistent with anything this town has propounded in its Board of Education or in its policies for its children or public health.”

Board of Finance Member Greg Kabasakalian acknowledged the budget process for the next fiscal year.

“Most of our budget has to do with the children of this town,” he said, “and you cannot tell me that this sends a good message to our children, to put a marijuana dispensary on Main Street.”

Economic and Community Development Commission Chairwoman Glori Norwitt decried the board’s decision, arguing voters should have a say.

“We could have controlled sales, controlled growth in an area that we want,” she said. “The ECDC is told to look at economic benefits, and this is an economic benefit.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com