standing North Stonington Town Hall

North Stonington Town Hall

NORTH STONINGTON — Residents have tabled a measure to restrict use of cannabis on town property after concerns that language intended to ban THC consumption could inadvertently impact those who legally sell and use hemp goods or CBD products.

Town voters overwhelmingly supported a motion to delay the measure to establish a prohibition on town property, including town rights of way, under Chapter 21, Article 1 of the town’s ordinances. The ordinance was designed based on those already approved in similar Connecticut communities, First Selectman Robert Carlson said, and would supplement a restriction on alcohol that already exists.

Those opposed were concerned that while the intent was well-meaning, the vague language of the proposed ordinance could lead to unintended restrictions on vendors on the general public at public festivals, farmers  markets and other events where hemp-based manufacturing and non-psychoactive consumables are already available.

“When you look online, everything says that (hemp and marijuana) come from the same plant, but the difference is the presence of THC,” said Carolyn Howell. “Maybe we still need to do something, but I don’t think we should be hasty in making any decisions.”

The measure was the only one of seven questions not to receive approval at the annual budget and town meeting on Monday evening, with several other tax delinquency, operations and finance-based requests to deobligate funding for completed projects passing with ease. Three other measures — the town’s and school district’s annual budget requests and an ordinance to approve tax breaks for senior citizens — were approved for referendum on May 15.

When it came to the marijuana restriction on town property, residents were not opposed to banning use of THC. Howell said she was not a smoker herself, but was worried about the impact such an ordinance could have on individuals selling items such as hemp clothing on town properties, such as at a farmers market.

It was a concern that was shared by Selectman Brett Mastroianni, who said he, too, was unsure whether the potentially vague language could have a negative impact in such scenarios.

“I do think it is important to consider that there are hemp-derived products, whether it’s clothing or something else, and some CBD products at the farmers market,” Mastroianni said. “If we read this for what it is, then those items would potentially be banned. I don’t think that’s what we want to do.”

Mastroianni offered a possible amendment to the motion, but First Selectman Robert Carlson said that in the interest of transparency, he would rather see the language altered and the topic rediscussed at a future town meeting.

Carlson said the purpose of the ordinance wasn’t to restrict legal businesses, but rather to address the actions of private citizens who have been smoking THC-based products within public spaces.

The town has already received several complaints since marijuana was legalized recreationally, Carlson said, and the purpose of the ordinance is to allow the town to enforce against those who would create a disturbance. Alcohol consumption in public is also restricted in town under existing ordinances, he noted.

“With anything like this, it is important that the town checks things the best way that it can,” he said. “Instituting something like this makes sense, and we can adjust it if we need to. I just don’t see why we would throw it out and start over when it has already clearly been an issue in the community.”

Although in favor of restricting THC use on town property, several residents, including Bill Ricker, said it would be best to simply delay a vote to better assess whether the ordinance truly does what it is intended to do.

“Based on confusion, not just from the public but those who proposed this, I would recommend it be removed and revisited, then brought back at the next town meeting,” he said.

Although the measure is likely to gain future approval, the discussion gave others a chance to express their displeasure at the recent legalization. Former longtime First Selectman Nicholas Mullane blamed the state for bringing immoral opportunities to residents.

Mullane went as far as to say he hopes the town will also “enforce this on town roads” including cars where multiple people may be using or in possession of marijuana.

“Isn’t the state wonderful? They gave us more gambling and now marijuana,” he said in closing his statements.

Silence on budget

The annual town meeting, which allowed the budget questions to move to referendum, resulted in few comments this year, and only one voice in opposition.

Despite vocally supporting the $7.35 million general government operating and debt budget, Brian Rathbun expressed concerns over the proposed $15.17 million education proposal. He said although he supports education, the request calls for a 4.7% increase and is too expensive for some taxpayers to handle.

“We need to look at what our town can afford,” he said. “I don’t want see more people leaving because of taxes they can’t afford.”

The school budget saw significant support from other speakers, however, as several teachers and parents spoke in favor of the increases, which include added funding for mental health support.

Resident Jennifer Dayton noted that in the coming year, the town will also see a significant revenue increase of over $300,000 as a result of out-of-district students coming to North Stonington to receive their education.

“I have no kids in the school system, but I am here to support the education budget,” Dayton said. “Residents in the area are voting with their feet, and they are sending their children to us. We need to continue the investment that is making that possible.”

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