BRISTOL – A packed, three-and-a-half hours public hearing ran an obstacle course of community opinions pertaining to the potential sale of recreational cannabis in Bristol Tuesday night.
This hearing ran before an Ordinance Committee meeting, where members voted to potentially ban such sales within the city. Included in the vote, the committee looks to continue allowing the sale of medical cannabis, and to allow the potential presence of cannabis businesses affiliated with manufacturing.
Councilwoman Cheryl Thibeault said she would “absolutely vote no” but that the vote would get the proposed ordinance before City Council for consideration and further discussion among the public.
According to Ordinance Committee Chair Sue Tyler, 52 individuals offered opinions verbally or in writing at the recreational cannabis public hearing with 22 speaking through digital conferencing software. Some voiced concerns about the challenges of policing cannabis consumption in drivers with no instrument which could reliably measure levels of influence during traffic stops. Other residents noted the economic boons of retail tax dollars to the city as well as the medicinal benefits of the substance. Others stated they had concerns with health hazards and the potential increased contact for area youth with cannabis leading to more underage consumption.
Thibeault said she did not want to see youth impacted negatively by any drugs. In terms of businesses not directly related to recreational sales - such as food, cultivation and packaging – the councilwoman thought it was important Bristol consider allowing such commercial licenses. She also felt it was important to consider the various qualities of cannabis that would be overseen by a state legal purchasing process in comparison to the dangers of purchases made “on the street.” Thibeault noted she was in favor of the ease of medicinal cannabis access to patients.
City officials have said around 3,000 patients make use of the medicinal dispensary, Trulieve, in Bristol, which is seeking to potentially set up a hybrid – medical and retail – dispensary in the old Applewood Restaurant and Bar.
“I don’t know the financial reports of Truelieve, but I have been told that they will leave this market if we ban the hybrid expansion,” said Thibeault. “I will not sign onto an ordinance that will cause our pharmaceutical dispensary to leave town.”
As a former law enforcement officer, Tyler said she did not object to proper use of medicinal cannabis and safe access to a legal substance’s consumption. She said she was concerned about people having to be exposed to the substance in public, however, who may not want to be around it. She was for new businesses opening. Despite the substance being legalized by the state, Tyler criticized future unknowns and challenges not yet addressed by legislation.
“My main objection is that I wholeheartedly believe that we still have much work to do here in Bristol with our economic development direction,” she said.
If Trulieve did leave, Tyler said she felt confident another medical dispensary would step into its place. The chair shared she had also been told that if the business could not hybridize, it may leave. Tyler did not feel a business should give the city an “ultimatum” in making a decision pertaining to whether it could or could not hybridize in the selling of recreational cannabis.
Thibeault challenged whether another dispensary would easily be able to set up in Bristol given the financial and licensing obstacles such a business would have to overcome.
Tyler said she had heard city officials say that Trulieve could be grandfathered into hybridization but to her knowledge such businesses still needed to go through application procedures and get city approval.
“This is a very tough issue and I don’t want to drag it out too much longer because I do understand we are under pressure but I’m also very hesitant to just jump into making a decision that goes against what the majority of our constituents want,” said Tyler.
Thibeault said responses she had received connected with those for and against recreational cannabis were evenly distributed.
Councilwoman and Ordinance Committee member Jacqueline Olsen said she agreed with Tyler. Both represent Bristol’s City Council District Two.
Olsen said Trulieve had a considerable interest in expanding within Bristol.
“I don’t fault them for that. That’s business but considering hybrid stores in Bristol shouldn’t be based solely on generating revenue or creating jobs. There are other factors to be considered,” she said. “I did visit Trulieve. It’s very well run and I think they’re bringing a great service to the community that needs the help.”
The sale of recreational cannabis was a “different ball game” to her though. The sale of such a substance, outside of medical need, and its consumption she felt potentially led to the use of other drugs. Olsen listed concerns with health hazards and its effects on youth. She asked if Bristol wanted to be known as the “pot hub of Central Connecticut” when surrounding communities had said no to retail sales.
“What message will this send to the younger generation?” asked Olsen. “That getting high is okay?”