News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 2, 2017
Selectmen uneasy about marijuana delays

by Rich Hewitt

As the state Legislature works to regulate recreational marijuana, towns like Stonington are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Town Manager Kathleen Billings told selectmen at their October 16 meeting that she is concerned about developing local regulations before the state has completed its work, but worries that delays at the state level might not give the town time to create its own ordinance before its marijuana moratorium expires.

The town enacted the six-month moratorium last March, after voters approved the recreational marijuana law, and extended it for an additional six months last summer. The moratorium will expire next spring around town meeting time.

State regulations will guide what towns do, but Billings said it takes time to write a local ordinance, take it to public hearing and then vote on it. Even so, selectmen didn’t want to spend time on the issue until the state acts on its regulations.

Selectmen did not appear to be opposed to having a retail marijuana shop in town although they stressed that such establishments need to be regulated. Billings indicated that the town likely would establish rules about where they could be located, keeping those shops away from churches, schools and playgrounds in the same way as bars and alcohol sales.

Voters in Stonington favored legalizing recreational marijuana in last year’s election, but Billings said there has been little interest expressed in opening a shop in town. There has been some discussion from downtown business owners who have concerns about having a retail marijuana shop downtown.

One issue the town cannot resolve is the federal law still in effect that makes the sale and use of marijuana illegal. Selectman Donna Brewer questioned what happens if that does not change.

Although Billings said there has been a lot of discussion about that, there has been no action taken by the state Legislature or by Congress.

“It’s still illegal,” Betts said.

The town is looking into options for new lights at Hagen Dock after some residents complained the lights are too bright. Although most selectmen did not feel the lights are a problem, they agreed to research possible fixes.

Billings said a committee had worked hard researching the lights to ensure they would have as little impact as possible. Changing the lights, she said, may not be as simple as just changing a light bulb. It may require changing the entire “head” of the light fixture, which would be very expensive.

The town has spent the grant money it received for the Hagen Dock project, she said, and has begun using the borrowed money that town voters approved.

Billings said she also is looking into prices for removing the loose stones left around the dock near where fishermen beach their boats. Fishermen have raised concerns that the rocks could damage their boats.

Selectmen, however, balked at installing more pilings along the dock. Brewer suggested that the selectmen consider that, but they did not want to spend the funds unless it was needed.

“I’d hate to put money and effort into something that’s not used more than a couple of times a year,” Selectman John Robbins said. “If we see it needs to be more, we can budget to put in a couple more.”