Ridgefield could put retail pot on the ballot. But so far, residents haven’t weighed in on the issue

RIDGEFIELD — Officials are gauging residents’ interest on retail cannabis through a series of public hearings, although attendance has been slim so far.

The purpose of the hearings is to hear people’s thoughts, opinions and concerns about whether or not Ridgefield should permit the sale of cannabis locally as the town considers whether to hold a referendum on the issue. Four people attended the first hearing, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

Recreational marijuana was legalized at the state level last summer. Since then, towns like Ridgefield have passed temporary restrictions on cannabis establishments as they figure out how — and how many — retailers, distributors, growers and more would be allowed to do business in their municipalities.

In September, Ridgefield’s 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.

The moratorium put the town on pause from entertaining applications for these kinds of businesses to give residents time to scrutinize the issue.

“To that end, (the Planning and Zoning Commission) referred the matter … to the Board of Selectmen to decide the policy relative to cannabis,” Marconi said. “A. Do we want a recreational cannabis dispensary? Or B. Do we not want it?”

Officials wanted community input in order to make that determination, hence the public hearings. Two more sessions will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 26 and Saturday, April 2 in the lower level conference room of Town Hall. Those wishing to attend are asked to enter from the side entrance on Bailey Avenue.

In an email to Hearst Connecticut Media, the Economic & Community Development Commission encouraged residents to attend in the hopes that a question pertaining to retail cannabis in Ridgefield would go to a town-wide referendum.

Marconi has asked the town clerk to research the possibility of adding such a question to the budget referendum in May. He wondered, however, if it would even be worth including given people’s apathy thus far.

Selectman Sean Connelly believes the hearings will help the board make that determination. The selectmen are charged with approving the questions asked on the ballot at referendum per the town charter.

“We need lots of community input to make the decision, and I don’t feel we fully have that now,” he said. “I’ve had discussions and talks with people who feel passionately that it should go on the ballot.”

In an email to Hearst Connecticut Media, Selectwoman Barbara Manners said she would like to see the question asked during the budget referendum or a municipal election “when … more of the electorate comes out to vote.”

Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark is inclined to hear what the public has to say at the remaining hearings.

“Depending on (people’s) interest, that would be a good way to judge whether we should have it on the ballot or not,” she said.

Selectman Bob Hebert agreed with Kozlark, saying he was “undecided” about adding the question to the upcoming budget referendum.

Marconi acknowledged the economic benefits of having a cannabis dispensary in Ridgefield, but questioned if it were necessary given the medical marijuana dispensary next door in Danbury.

And since marijuana is illegal at the federal level, the town could run into “a terrible legal situation” were an employee found to be under the influence, he said.

“As a municipality I think we’re gonna have to say that the answer is no — there are too many contradictions that are created,” he added. “As the first selectman of this town, I would absolutely say no.”