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Medical marijuana could be coming to your neighborhood

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published October 13. 2013 4:00AM

I might say at the outset that I can be counted out if people around here develop a Not in My Backyard mindset in regards to medical marijuana.

I am fine with it if someone wants to set up a growing facility in my neighborhood for medical marijuana.

After all, by license from the state, the facility must be indoors, in a secure facility and can't be too close to schools or churches.

It has to be run by credit-worthy people of good character, who will have to undergo background checks.

Bar owners don't get that kind of scrutiny.

Naturally, the growing facilities are going to have good security. Just like the drug dealers of old, they are going to make sure no one takes their stuff.

The state is getting ready to issue two sets of marijuana licenses, some to growers and some to retail dispensaries. They could be the same facility, but they don't have to be.

There will be at least three but as many as 10 growing facilities, by statute. Three to five dispensary licenses are expected to be awarded at first, but there could more, depending on how demand develops.

(There are only 69 approved medical marijuana users in New London County, but that number is expected to grow, once the system gets rolling and new people come forward to be diagnosed for legally treatable conditions.)

The state Department of Consumer Protection has developed extensive rules about how it intends to issue these new licenses. It is a curious process, the launching of a new industry, one that will be closely regulated by the state.

The regulations pertain even to what kind of advertising will be allowed.

The deadline for submitting applications for the licenses, which will be expensive, because of large surety bonds that must be posted, is Nov. 15. None are in yet.

The state will begin awarding them around the first of the year. And the state's first pot stores could hang out their shingles by spring.

Municipalities may have some input because license applicants are supposed to show that the facilities they are proposing meet zoning and other local regulations.

The trouble is officials in many municipalities, where pot growing and selling is not addressed specifically in zoning regulations, are a little confused about what to do.

Some town zoning boards have written specific rules about pot selling and growing. Others are considering how the uses might fit existing codes. Indoor growing facilities, for instance, might be considered manufacturing.

I tracked down someone who has been talking to zoning officials in Stonington about building new greenhouses on an approved subdivision in Pawcatuck. It, well, smelled a little of a pot growing proposal, given the timing.

But Denny Smith, owner of the land at Jameson Way, assured me he is not interested in growing pot. Instead, he said he and his partner are planning off-the-grid hydroponic greenhouses that could produce up to a million pounds of vegetables year-round.

That may even be a more interesting project than the state's first legal pot growing greenhouses.

Some prospective growers have approached planning officials in New London, saying they might submit applications for something in the city.

The city Planning and Zoning Commission had a general discussion about the topic recently, with some members suggesting that no zoning changes may be needed if a growing facility is considered a manufacturing plant.

The board agreed to revisit the topic later, but I was glad to hear from their discussion that they seemed generally receptive to the idea. After all, it would be a new business, something New London can't afford to turn away.

I got the sense that NIMBY arguments against pot facilities won't find many sympathetic ears with New London officials.

But I do suspect that Connecticut may see some NIMBY marijuana movements soon, as the new dealers begin to lay out their hands.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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